Plants - Trees and Shrubs

Caring for trees and shrubs after an ice storm

Adrienne Brown

Tips from the experts on how to help out your precious plants after severe winter weather

Watching an ice storm wreak havoc on beloved trees and shrubs can be incredibly sad—not to mention, dangerous. And well after all that ice has melted, you’ll likely have some work ahead of you. If you want your trees to bounce back better than ever, you’ll have to give them a bit of a helping hand.

Assessing tree damage
Rory Quigley, president of the International Society of Arboriculture Ontario and an arborist with the Town of Cobourg says after an ice storm, every homeowner should do a visual inspection. Just because the ice has dissipated doesn’t mean the risks have. Look for broken branches, splits and cracks in your trees.

If there is major damage to any of your trees, Quigley recommends calling an arborist for evaluation and advice. Similarly, “if you’re working above your head, call a professional.” (Find one on the Trees Are Good website.)

However, if the damage is not too significant and you can reach the affected areas from the ground, Quigley says it’s okay to try to repair the tree yourself. Wood will grow over itself. “The cleaner a cut is, the quicker and more efficiently the wound may start to grow over,” he explains.

Quigley says the rule of thumb is about 50 per cent: If less than half of your tree has been damaged, you have a good chance of saving it.


  • Remove hanging branches that are no longer attached. Surviving branches don’t need the extra weight.
  • Prune and trim while it’s still cold out and your tree is dormant.
  • Water thoroughly in spring, ensuring the deep root system of your tree is well watered.
  • Aerate the area around your tree.
  • Use mulch, no matter the size and age of your tree.
  • Try to ensure a struggling tree doesn’t have to compete for resources with other plants.


  • Use tar or other additives to repair splits or cracks. “This actually slows the regeneration of new growth, can trap bacteria and can speed up the decay process,” says Quigley.
  • Prune in spring. This is when your tree is putting lots of energy into buds and new material and you don’t want to redirect that energy into healing.
  • Prune evergreens too late in the fall. New growth needs time to harden off before winter or else you risk frostbite on tender new growth.
  • Walk on soft spring ground near your trees before it has had time to dry out. You can compact it and, in turn, damage the plant and its roots.


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