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This April 10, 2013, photo shows tree damage along Worthington’s Ninth Street. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

Trees, shrubs bear brunt of ice storm damage

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WORTHINGTON — One of the worst horrors experienced by area residents who endured the April 2013 ice storm was this: the thunderous cracking of endless tree branches breaking under the weight of the merciless ice.

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As people waited out the storm in homes and apartments, some huddled in darkened, chilly rooms due to the temporary absence of electricity, it was sickening to contemplate that numerous trees in every neighborhood were damaged and down.

Scott Rosenberg, forester for the City of Worthington, can readily cite the specifics of that damage: 932 trees within Worthington were ultimately removed due to the storm.

“That includes small saplings that broke off,” Rosenberg said.

Are any trees or shrubs immune to the ravages of a storm like last year’s?

The short answer is no.

“Nothing is completely ice storm proof,” confirmed Rosenberg, “but there are definitely some varieties that handle wind and ice better than others.

“You might see some minimal damages — smaller broken limbs — on hardier types but not need to have the whole tree removed.”

Two varieties that proved particularly poor soldiers in the 2013 onslaught were the ash and the silver maple.

“Of the tree removals we did, 80 to 85 percent were ash,” detailed Rosenberg. “The ice completely snapped off the tops of them like they were toothpicks.

“And unfortunately, about one-third of our community forest is — or was — ash, and silver maples make up a fair amount of it, too.”

Rosenberg said new varieties of maple trees that have been crossed are better bets.

“The Freeman maple, in particular, grows quickly but is much stronger,” revealed Rosenberg. “It’s a cross between the strength of the red maple and the fast-growing feature of the silver maple.”

To ensure a healthier landscape in the future, Rosenberg suggests careful observation and proactive care on the part of tree owners.

“If you notice different defects in your trees — for instance, look for decay and rot, look for holes or cavities in the trees — you should prune them out when you see them,” suggested Rosenberg.

“If bad branch unions had been pruned down at earlier stages, that could have saved some more trees,” he added. “Proper pruning of defects within a tree can actually preserve its life.”

Shrubbery, while affected in many cases, is nonetheless more resilient than certain trees.

“Some shrubs broke over, but with most deciduous shrubs, you can cut them down to a foot off the ground, or even to ground level, and they will send up new shoots and start a new bush growing,” Rosenberg noted.

What are the signs that a tree is really done for?

“If the branches all broke off and it got topped off by a pruner or tree service that cut a tree at no particular point — leaving it with a flat top — then even if that tree gets new shoots, the new branches will be weak points and will have more issues with future winds and ice,” declared Rosenberg.

“Most of those trees will start to rot much earlier in their life than they would have, so you should watch for future rot and decay.”

Ideally, Rosenberg would like to plant 700 to 750 new trees in Worthington to replace those lost (the count is lower than the total number of trees removed because of underground utility placement that prevents replanting at all sites).

But the grand total of trees scheduled for planting by the City of Worthington this spring is … one.

Yes, one.

“We will plant one tree, for Arbor Day, at the Center for Active Living,” said Rosenberg. “We’re under a non-essential watering ban, and watering trees and plants is part of that.

“If we planted trees this spring and couldn’t water them, we’d lose 90 to 95 percent of them due to inadequate moisture.”

Instead, Rosenberg will pray for plenty of rain and snow over the next 12 months and hope to have the opportunity to plant more trees in the spring of 2015.

“We’ll wait for more water before we plant,” Rosenberg assured. “Tree availability is really limited in the fall, so maybe that will be next spring if weather conditions cooperate.”

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Jane Moore
Jane has been a contributing writer to the Daily Globe since 1997. Previously, she held professional positions in corporate communications, alumni relations and journalism. She earned a B.A. in English with a minor in German at Carleton College. Jane handles the weekly "Looking Back" column and frequently writes education, fine arts and news features for the Daily Globe. Her blog can be viewed at www.timeformoore.areavoices.com.
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