Assessing Your Trees After a Hard Freeze

Freezing temperatures, during the winter months, are normal for most of the United States. This includes Southwestern states, such as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. While healthy native trees are the most likely to recover fully from a winter storm, it is important for homeowners to evaluate all their trees.

Photo by Nicolas M. Perrault.

While a broken limb is an obvious sign of damage, please be aware that not all damage will be visible immediately. It might take weeks or even months for a tree to show signs of damage from a hard freeze.

How to Assess the Damage

Texas A & M Forest Service suggests homeowners begin their evaluation by asking a few questions, including:

Prior to the storm was the tree healthy?

Trees that are healthy and have been properly cared for throughout the year will likely recover from a hard freeze. For tips on proper tree care, please see our series by ISA certified arborist, Tiana George.

Are large limbs broken?

The greater the number of large limbs that have been broken the less a tree’s chances of survival. If any number of large limbs have been broken, it is important that the tree be evaluated immediately by an ISA certified arborist. First aid measures will increase a tree’s chances of a full recovery.

Does the tree still have 50 percent of its crown (branches and leaves) intact?

If a tree has had over 50 percent of its branches (and leaves) broken, then the chances are low that the tree will survive. Leaves, and the branches that they stem from, are essential to a tree’s ability to convert sunlight into food.

Is there noticeable bark loss?

Bark loss, due to a freeze, might take a few weeks to be noticeable. If significant bark loss does occur, contact an ISA arborist immediately. This could be a sign of serious storm damage.

Is the tree the right species for the location?

Trees that are liable to fall on power lines or homes might need to be removed before the next storm comes. If unseen damage has occurred, the chances of damage to property occurring in the future is higher. Better to be safe.

What to Do If There is Damage

In the case of minor damage, Texas A & M Forest Service recommends that you prune and repair torn bark immediately. This will allow the healing process to begin. But be mindful not to over prune, especially fruit and nut trees, says Texas A&M Agriculture Extension agent Larry Stein. “We tell people to learn to like ugly… [G]ive the plants time to recuperate and actually see the full extent of the damage.”

For large limb damage, we highly recommend you contact an ISA certified arborist. Removing large limbs can be dangerous, whether or not you know how to operate a chainsaw. Moreover, the survival and longevity of the tree will depend on expert repair and techniques.

What About Young Trees?

For young trees, Texas A&M Forest recommends that homeowners examine the tree to see if the leader is intact. If it is, chances are good that the tree will survive. Pruning broken branches help begin the healing process.

Young Live Oaks are particularly susceptible to a hard freeze. If damage has occurred, you might notice a bulge on the trunk or a branch, accompanied with bark loss. If the bark loss is significant, the young Live Oak might not survive. Thankfully, bark loss can be repaired by arborist. But it should be done so immediately to give the tree the best chance possible of survival.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact an ISA certified arborist in your area.

Live in Denton County, Texas? Contact Tree Shepherds. Our ISA certified arborists can help you with all of your tree care needs.

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Krista White
Krista is a member of the marketing and education team at Tree Shepherds. A lifelong learner, she loves writing about anything from Hemingway to Quercus macrocarpa.