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Planting the right tree prevents winter woesPlanting the right tree prevents winter woes

Farmstead Forest: It takes spring planning to get the best trees in place that will withstand heavy snow and ice.

Curt Arens

April 30, 2019

2 Min Read
sliver maples damaged from ice storm
BROKEN LIMBS: Branches from several of our century-old silver maple trees around our farm took a hit from a late spring ice storm and blizzard, dropping huge limbs.

After heavy winds, snow and a large amount of accumulated ice struck our farm this past April, the large, historic silver maple tree towering over our farmhouse and long driveway pruned itself.

I could tell when I was doing chores while the ice and snow were melting from the bending limbs and a 40-mile per hour wind came up from the east. I heard cracking, creaking and an occasional crash from the barn. When I looked out, several small branches, larger limbs and even a piece of the top of the trunk of that old tree were strewn across our farmyard and driveway.

It is fortunate that we were proactive two years ago and aggressively pruned that maple tree and several other trees around our house and farm woodlands to prevent more damage to our buildings.

Many of our readers may have experienced the same thing over the past several years with their own silver maple, cottonwood, hackberry, poplar or elm trees. These trees like to drop branches and limbs. That’s why a little planting planning in the spring can help avoid major structure damage around the farm and ranch in the winter.

“I think a good general rule of thumb is that faster-growing species are generally more prone to storm and ice damage,” says Justin Evertson, green infrastructure coordinator, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. That would include all the aforementioned trees.

“Conversely, slower-growing, longer-lived species like oaks, hickories, walnuts and pecans, for instance, are less prone,” Evertson says. “I’ve also noticed catalpas are pretty good at avoiding storm damage. Sugar maples are better than other maples. Lindens also do all right.”

“Most evergreens are fairly resistant to ice damage once they are established,” Evertson explains. “Although, junipers and cedars often end up with bent branching.”

He doesn’t necessarily suggest that we shouldn’t plant trees that are more prone to storm damage, but that we should plan where we plant them. “Avoid planting the most damage-prone trees near farm buildings, decks or important gathering areas,” he says.

Planting those longer-lived, slower-growing trees won’t guarantee that a limb won’t fall during a storm. But that kind of strategy will most likely prevent you from having a ton of small branches and larger limbs on the ground every time we have wind, rain, ice or snow.

If you assessed the tree damage you had around the farm last winter, you have probably already identified the spots where different varieties of trees might be warranted.

If you have trees that are prone to damage already planted near your farm buildings, be sure to keep up on maintenance and pruning of these trees to prevent severe damage to the trees and your property when storms strike your home place.

For more information, contact your local tree nursery, certified arborist or Evertson at [email protected]. Learn about local tree species and their hardiness during storms by visiting a regional community arboretum or park where the trees are identified.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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