April storm to hit Colorado: How to safely remove snow from trees

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Spring snow can cause sagging branches and damaged branches. Here’s what you can do to protect your trees.

COLORADO, United States — A wet April storm is expected to hit Colorado Tuesday and Wednesday, and those living at higher elevations may have to deal with many broken branches.

With an inch of moisture possible from the storm, the foothills and mountains could record significant amounts of snow. The National Weather Service said Monday Conifer could get 15 to 25 inches; Bailey, 12 to 24 inches, and Estes Park, 6 to 12 inches.

Along the Front Range, Denver could see several inches of wet snow Tuesday night through Wednesday morning, but most of the precipitation is expected to fall as rain.

Here are some tips for removing snow from trees:

  • Note that snow, ice or wind can break and fall at any time.
  • Make sure the tree is secure and clear of utility lines before removing snow.
  • Do not attempt to shake snow off a tree when a utility line is passing through its branches or within contact range.
  • When the tree is free of utility lines, use a broom to remove as much snow as possible from the branches by brushing or gently shaking it. Avoid large, rapid movements as this could break the limb.
  • Do not attempt to climb a tree or use ladders to reach higher branches.

If the tree seems to have fallen on power lines, it’s best to leave it alone and wait for Xcel Energy to come and clear it.

Here are some more snow-damaged tree care tips from the Colorado State Forest Service:

  • Check for hazards. Before approaching the tree, make sure your surroundings are safe. Watch out for fallen utilities and avoid standing under broken or overhanging branches.
  • If necessary, contact the city administration. Trees between the street and a city sidewalk may be the responsibility of city crews.
  • Assess the damage. If a tree is overall healthy and still has its guiding light – the main branch – most of the main branches and 50% or more of its crown, the chances of a full recovery are good.
  • Be careful when knocking snow off branches. It might be tempting to just pick up a broom and bang on it, but doing so could result in branches snapping. If you need to remove snow, gently push the branches up from the bottom to avoid additional stress.
  • Remove broken branches. This minimizes the risk of rot and entry of insects or diseases into the wound on the tree. Cut at the collar of the branch – the point where a branch meets a larger branch – and be aware of any pent-up energy if the branch is twisted or bent.
  • Don’t prune too much. Trees can look unbalanced and uneven when damaged branches are removed. Trees grow rapidly with new foliage covering up the bare patches.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. If the job requires operating a chainsaw overhead, sawing down a ladder, or removing large branches or entire trees, consult an insured, certified arborist. Specialists are often listed in the telephone book under “tree service”.

Here are some more tricks for dealing with snow, depending on the type of plant affected:

deciduous trees

  • Damp snow clings to every branch and twig, and the cumulative effect can result in cracked and broken limbs. If it is possible to reach up into the tree with a long pole – for example a broomstick with an extension – it is advisable to carefully shake the snow off the tree. Be sure to work up from the bottom of the tree so that as the snow falls from the higher branches, it doesn’t add extra weight to the already snow-laden lower branches.
  • Even later storms that drop snow on trees that have started leafing will hold more snow as it sticks to the leaves. The gentle shaking of limbs in these storms is even more critical.
  • If there is a hard frost after trees rupture buds – either leaf buds or flowers – those buds are usually killed off. Leaves will come back from a secondary bud, but flowers will not bud again, and this means loss of fruit as well: apples, peaches, apricots, etc. The good news in this scenario is that freezing will also kill the seed buds of trees like ash and Elm that shed pesky seeds that need cleaning later.
  • After the weather clears, preventative maintenance pruning can help protect your trees from future spring snowstorms.
  • Healthy trees break less often. One way to keep your tree healthy is to water it in April and May – until you turn on your sprinkler system. Trees that are stressed by drought not only break more easily, but are also more susceptible to disease.

shrub care

  • Many herbaceous shrubs have weak wood and long, pliable branches that make them susceptible to wind and snow damage. Examples are Russian Sage, Golden Elder, Sumac, Pussy Willow, Bluemist Spirea, and Darknight Spirea.
  • Any branch broken by the weather—and that includes trees—should be pruned back. These cracks and fractures are an open invitation to pests and diseases of all kinds.
  • Protect these plants with timely pruning, as a little care now can save more labor and treatment costs later.

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