Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Pruning Storm Damaged Trees

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A snow covered branch.  Photo from

A snow covered branch. Photo from

The recent storms have dumped a load of snow across Nebraska, but the warm temperatures have been welcomed with open arms. Take advantage of the warm temperatures to scout for potential issues in your landscape.

Heavy snow and ice build-up on plants can cause some problems. Enough build up can lead to limb breakage or even splits on limbs and trunks. Ideally, allow the ice and snow to melt naturally from the limbs. If the snow is weighing down the tree or the limbs, gently brush off the snow. Do not hit a branch to knock off the snow or ice, it can cause more damage to the plants.

Eventually it is unavoidable somewhere along the line there will be some storm damage to trees. The Nebraska Forest Service has a few tips for homeowners who are caring for storm damaged trees:

  • Safety at all times. Use caution around trees during and after extreme weather. Falling limbs and debris may be hazards long after the storm has passed.
  • Inspect the trees for splits or cracks in the trunk. This might indicate a structural problem with the tree. If you think a tree has sustained structural damage, contact an arborist.
  • Never climb a damaged tree to remove limbs or attempt clean up a tree that is leaning.
  • Be wary of individuals who go door-to-door to get your business, use a local reputable service.
  • Pass on offers to top your tree. Topping harms the tree and increases the likelihood of structural problems and the trees recovery time after a storm.
  • Wait for ice and snow to melt off of trees before pruning.
  • Check the whole tree before pruning. First remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches that can easily be reached from the ground.

If more than 50% of the tree’s branches need to be removed due to storm damage, consult an arborist and consider removing the tree.

Be sure to have the correct information from a reputable source. If you are dealing with large trees or trees with significant storm damage contact a certified arborist. Don’t know who is a certified arborist in the area? You can go to several locations to find a list of certified arborists. You can look at the Nebraska Arborist Association or the International Society of Arboriculture’s webpages. Both offer a ‘find arborists’ searches for lists of certified arborists in your area.

If you are able to do the pruning yourself, get all of the facts to make sure you are not only pruning properly, but also safely. Winter is one of the best times of year to prune deciduous trees. It can also be one of the most potentially detrimental seasons to trees as well as a hazardous one for homeowners who do their own pruning.   Getting all of the correct facts and asking for help can mean a safe season for all. The Nebraska Forest Service has multiple publications that deal with all tree related topics, even pruning storm damaged trees. This information can be found at

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall, which gives us a couple of reason why we prune them in winter. The branching structure is more easily seen in winter because of the lack of leaves on the trees. When trees have leaves, they are making food. This food is transported throughout the tree as sap. In winter, the tree has no leaves, therefore it is not making food and there is minimal sap flow. If the tree is pruned in spring, late March or early April, the sap is already flowing throughout the tree. The cut surfaces ooze or bleed sap, which attracts insects and other wildlife. This can increase the potential for disease infestations as well as the potential for the tree not healing as fast as it would in the winter months.

Take advantage of the warm weather and do a little scouting in your landscape. With the proper care and maintenance, winter storms don’t have to spell disaster for your trees.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, her blog at, HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

One thought on “Pruning Storm Damaged Trees

  1. A remember a year a long time ago, when I was in high school, it snowed at the end of May. May parents have orchards, and we had a lot of branches break. Luckily fruit trees aren’t really tall, so we didn’t have to worry about too many safety issues. Some of bigger willow trees we did though. I remember having to go cut some limbs off the trees, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.

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