After the storm, is my tree dead?

After record cold temperatures swept across the country during the February 2021 storm, many of us are left worrying about our trees and outdoor plants. Although you may have covered up small plants and flowers, many trees and shrubs were left exposed to the cold.

The following information should be used as a guide to assess your tree and plants after severe cold

Even though we are all eager to start cleaning up our yards, you will not be able to tell if your tree or shrub is damaged for at least a couple weeks after the storm. Plants need time to recover for you to evaluate the full extent of their damage.

It is advised to wait until early spring to determine what part of your tree or shrubs may be permanently damaged. Generally, a well-adapted mature tree or shrub should not have long-term damage from recent cold-fronts, but other non-native tropical or fruit trees may need attention.

A good question to ask yourself, when assessing frost damage, is whether your tree was healthy and thriving before the freeze. If you have a healthy, well-adapted tree that did not suffer any structural damage, it should recover from the freeze with no issues.

If your tree has sustained limb damage, the recovery process may be more difficult. Tree branches damaged by the storm can be safety hazards, whereupon they should immediately be removed. Fruit-bearing trees, such as fig and citrus trees, will likely have leaves that turn brown and flowers, if present, that are now dead.

When the weather warms up, leaf drop indicates that the wood is not likely damaged, but leaf retention means the wood is likely damaged or dead. Wood damage can also be evaluated by scraping a very small area of the outer layer of bark; green tissue underneath usually indicates live wood while brown tissue indicates dead wood. This “bark scraping” method is also useful when assessing hardy flowering shrubs that may have sustained damage in the freeze.

It is important to be patient and wait for your trees and shrubs to leaf out or put on new growth in the spring. At this time, if you notice parts of the tree are not leafing out and the scraped bark tissue is brown, you can determine what is dead. Once you properly determine what is dead, you can trim back the dead tissue to approximately half an inch above where the plant has died.

Care should be taken when pruning trees or plants to minimize damage and potential for disease introduction. Always use sharp tools and if you are unsure, about potential damage to your tree, contact a Certified Arborist in your area.  For more information on how to find a certified arborist in your area visit  DFW Post-Storm Response and Tree Care - Texas Trees.

Once temperatures are above 40 degrees and snow cover has melted, you can resume a normal winter watering schedule. If a tree or shrub sustained freeze damage you should be vigilant the following year to reduce further stress and provide adequate moisture throughout the growing season.

Additionally, newly established trees (planted within the last two years) are particularly susceptible to stressors such as extreme cold and heat and may require extra care to ensure they survive the Texas summer. For more information on tree watering and tree care during winter and summer months, please visit the following links

How to Care for Your Tree During the Winter - Texas Trees Foundation

Three Important Tips for Watering Your Tree - Texas Trees Foundation

How to Care for Your Tree During a Texas Summer - Texas Trees Foundation

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