Observations following the 2012 ice storm | Evergreen Arborist

The bulk of the cleanup from the January ice and snow storm has been accomplished and life is returning to normal. Arborists were not spared as I hauled away four pickup loads of debris from flowering plums, several ornamental cherries and Leyland cypress trees.

The bulk of the cleanup from the January ice and snow storm has been accomplished and life is returning to normal. Arborists were not spared as I hauled away four pickup loads of debris from flowering plums, several ornamental cherries and Leyland cypress trees.

The following are observations from spending the last seven weeks inspecting trees, performing renovation pruning and conducting hazard assessments to determine if damaged trees were safe to retain.

Tall conifer trees like Douglas fir fared much better than during the last ice and snow storm in December of 1995. However, deciduous trees were devastated by the 2012 version in many communities.

Most trees sprang back to their normal upright appearances after two days of being coated with ice. The weight caused branches to touch the ground and others to snap off. Unfortunately, many trees have not straightened up to date.

One approach to limbs that are still leaning on any type of tree is to attempt to reduce the weight of the guilty branches. Cutting off cracked or broken branches or removing the outer sections will often cause a branch to straighten up.

Here are a few more tips regarding the most common problems.

Flowering plums and other ornamentals:

These trees were probably the most severely damaged. Many large branches broke and had to be cut out where reachable. I observed dozens that were probably overtrimmed to where only the main trunk and a few large branches were left.

Flowering plums will sprout prolifically this spring and this new growth can grow up to 6 feet a year. In some instances, the sprouts can be thinned out to encourage an attractive new crown to develop. However, decisions will be made over the next few years as whether to cut some trees because they are not shaping up very well.


Many tall arborvitae hedges suffered heavy damage. Branches that are still leaning will not straighten up. Some can be removed without leaving a gaping hole. Others can be partially cut to reduce the weight and may straighten up. The real ambitious homeowners can attempt to straighten the branches and tie them together with rope or twine.

Topping the hedges at a certain height may be the only way to salvage some of them. The woody stubs that will be visible should begin to fill in after a year or two. In many instances, tall hedges may have to be cut in half to remove most of the damaged tops.

Birches, alders and cottonwoods:

Many of these trees were slaughtered as they lost thousands of branches and tops. Broken limbs that are hung up in the tops of the trees may have to be left because of the difficulty in reaching them. If any are hanging over a structure or area of heavy use, a tree service should be contacted to remove them.

Renovation pruning:

Valuable and favorite ornamental landscape trees can be carefully pruned to rebalance the crowns or to encourage small branches and new sprouts to begin to fill in voids. Patience will be necessary since it will take a few years of pruning and paying careful attention to buds and small twigs that will be crucial to renovating a tree.

Damaged Japanese maples, dogwoods, ornamental cherries, flowering plums and other landscape trees can be treated with care by knowledgeable professionals.

Hazard assessments:

I observed several large trees that lost major branches that caused a large wound on the trunk. If a tree has a significant manmade target, it should be checked to determine if it is safe to be retained.

Trees with large gapping wounds can be left if they are located away from buildings and high traffic areas. If such a tree were eventually to fail it would not strike a valuable target and could be enjoyed for several more years.

Fortunately, such severe ice and snow events are rare in the Pacific Northwest. The last one of recent memory occurred 17 years ago. A neighbor that had lived in Sumner for more than 60 years said she had never seen a storm such as that one.

Let us hope the next one will wait another 20 years or so.

Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is a certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor. He provides small tree pruning, storm damage renovation, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners. Contact him at 253-863-7469 or email at dlt@blarg.net. Website: evergreen-arborist.com.

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