Choosing ice storm-resistant trees

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Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS--Did you lose some trees to ice damage this winter? You may want to replace those you lost with varieties resistant to ice damage.

Sven Svenson, professor of horticulture at Oregon State University's North Willamette Research and Extension Center, has compiled a list of ice damage resistant trees that homeowners might want to consider planting to replace those killed by winter storms.

"Most of the damage done to trees during ice storms is caused by the weight of ice that accumulates, bending, kinking or breaking the branches," said Svenson.

Before selecting a new tree, Svenson recommends considering all the factors that influence tree damage during ice storms.

"Many factors influence the response of trees to ice storms," he said. "Some species, or cultivars of species, are generally more resistant to damage during ice storms than others. However, every individual tree is different. If the tree is planted in a poor location, if it is unhealthy, if it has not been properly pruned as it grew, or if it was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could be severely damaged during an ice storm."

Choosing a good species to plant is important, but choosing a good site and planting and caring for the tree in the right way also are crucial to preventing tree damage during ice storms.

"Deciduous tree species with strong wood and well-attached branches, like most oaks, hickories and ginkgos, are generally more resistant to damage in ice storms," said Svenson.

More susceptible to damage are deciduous trees with soft wood and branches with a strong, upright growth habit, or narrow crotch angles, he said, like European birches, Siberian Elms, Bradford pears and many silver maples. However, a properly-pruned birch, pear, elm or maple may resist damage better than a poorly pruned oak. Generally, conifers are more resistant to damage than deciduous trees species, with spruces and firs typically showing less damage than pines.

Cultivars of many species are available with strongly upright, columnar growth habits. When these selections also have good branching habit, they are very resistant to ice storm damage. Seek out these special selections to improve your chances of avoiding ice-storm damage.

"Remember that selection of an ice damage-resistant tree does not guarantee a damage-free tree," warned Svenson. "Proper site selection and timely tree care must be practiced to maximize the tree's resistant characteristics."

Svenson recommends the following list of trees as "ice storm-resistant" trees for the Willamette Valley:

Botanical Name Common Name

Abies sp. Fir

Acer circinatum Vine Maple

Acer griseum Paperbark Maple

Acer platanoides Norway Maple

Acer rubrum Red Maple

Arbutus menziesii Madrone

Calocedrus decurrens Incense Cedar

Carpinus caroliniana Blue Beech, Carolina Beech

Carya sp. Hickory

Chamaecyparis sp. Cypress

Chrysolepis chrysophylla Chinquapin

Ginkgo biloba Ginkgo, Maidenhair tree

Juglans nigra Black Walnut

Ostrya virginiana Ironwood

Picea sp. Spruces

Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas-fir

Quercus alba White Oak

Quercus bicolor Swamp White Oak

Quercus garryana Garry Oak

Taxus sp. Yews

Thuja plicata Western Red Cedar, Arborvitae

Tilia cordata Littleleaf Linden

Tsuga sp. Hemlocks

Umbellularia californica Oregon Myrtle

"This list is under continuous criticism and review," said Svenson. " It will be regularly modified based on new information. Ask nurserymen about improved selections with known resistance to ice damage."

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Sven Svenson