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News / Life / Clark County Life

Should you shake the ice off those trees and shrubs? WSU Master Gardener, other experts weigh in

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 17, 2024, 1:51pm

Bent over, simply sad, maybe even scary.

That’s how some trees looked earlier this week, after an ice storm pummeled the region and encased trunks and limbs in a heavy, glassy glaze.

When that happens, concerned tree lovers may feel tempted to whack their yard trees with brooms or sticks to dislodge the surprisingly stubborn ice. But that just results in a broken branches.

The best thing you can do with an iced-over tree is let it be, tree experts say.

“It is best to let nature take its course,” said Vancouver urban forester Charles Ray. “Trees and shrubs are surprising flexible and if the weight of the ice did not break the branch it will likely regain its form after the ice has melted.”

“Folks should generally leave their trees and shrubs alone once covered with a layer of ice,” agreed Master Gardener coordinator Erika Johnson of the Washington State University Clark County Extension. “Woody trees are genetically designed to bend in response to weight.”

“Don’t attempt to remove the ice by beating the branches with a broom or rake. This will only cause greater damage,” says an Arbor Day Foundation blog post from winter 2018. You can try gently pushing branches up from below with a pole, but never endanger yourself by standing below potentially falling branches.

“If the temperature is above freezing, spraying the ice-coated branches with cold water will help melt the ice,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation. “Hot or boiling water, however, may actually injure the trees and shrubs.”

Consider pruning later, but resist the temptation to over-prune. Trees will naturally fill in bare spots in time, the Arbor Day Foundation says.

When pruning broken limbs later, don’t leave “coat hangers,” that is, short branch sections that stick out (and are big enough to hang a coat on). They will die — and become entry points for pests and pathogens.

If your tree really has been damaged, Ray said, the worst thing you can do is panic over it. Instead, take a pause.

“If a tree does not represent a hazard, take the time necessary to be sure it gets proper care and make a final decision about it in a few weeks or months,” Ray said. There’s no reason to hurry — unless the tree is a safety hazard.

If it is, consult a professional arborist.

“If a tree is large, requires high climbing, is leaning against wires, buildings or other trees, or if wires or structures are endangered, let a professional do the job,” Ray said.

For a list of qualified arborists and hiring tips — and more information about trees and tree maintenance — visit www.cityofvancouver.us/urbanforestry.