A message from the Texas A&M Forest Service (Firewise USA | Mitigation and Prevention Department):
We've now had a few weeks to survey any damage left over after the winter storm. There has been an uptick in requests for information regarding pruning best practices, oak wilt risk reduction and long-term consequences of the storm to wildfire preparedness.
Where limbs have broken, make proper pruning cuts where possible (cut just to the outside of a branch collar-see the "information sheets" link below for the "pruning young trees" information sheet). Smaller branches can also be pruned back from a stob to a branch union to reduce the risk of decay and disease. If dealing with an oak tree, make as few prune cuts as possible and paint all cuts to avoid oak wilt.
- Repair broken bark. When primary branches are ripped from the trunk, the bark beneath the branch will often get torn, as well. Use a chisel or sharp knife to smooth the edges where bark has been torn away. This allows the tree to heal faster, and prevents bugs, fungi, and disease from sheltering in the crevices of broken bark.
- While your trees might look bent and broken now, they could very well perk back up if the limb is just droopy. Have patience with your trees as you cannot assess the full scope of damage until new leaves grow in the spring.
- Resources for “is my tree savable” and proper pruning.
- Look under “how do I care for my trees” then “pruning mature/young trees.”
- Wear appropriate protective gear including gloves and eye protection.
- Never stand directly under a limb when cutting it.
- Inspect your work area for limbs that may impact overhead lines if they come down where you don’t expect.
- When cutting and dragging trees and limbs, make sure all bystanders are a safe distance away.
Regarding Oak Wilt
Wounds on oaks attract beetles when the wounds are fresh, so if the wound has been exposed for more than two days, it is not necessary to paint it.
- Now that the temperatures are higher, oak wilt prevention is key.
- As you are cutting branches that are hanging down, or cutting broken sections back to the branch collar, painting the tree immediately after pruning is extremely important and is the best preventative measure you can take now.
- Try to make the least number of cuts as possible. Only cut limbs that are an immediate safety issue. Save cosmetic pruning until July when there is less risk of new oak wilt infections.
- Stumps need to be painted as well if you must cut an oak tree down.
- Any paint you have on-hand will work including spray paint and interior paint.
For more information, visit: https://tinyurl.com/IceDamageAndOakWilt and https://linktr.ee/tfscentraltx.
Regarding Wildfire Resiliency
There will be an uptick in dead and damaged trees in the coming months. If we have a drier than normal spring/summer or another harsh storm, that will increase overall stress on the trees currently alive to a point where they fail.
Unless there is a tear or wound that is threatening a trail or road, I would wait to cut any trees in community owned greenspace until spring, as it may still leaf out. Dead material clean-up from debris that has fallen out of trees and into natural areas would be a good plan for now if people are itching to take some sort of action. If there is a large amount of debris near dry or wet creeks, trying to address that build up will help decrease the chance of bad logjams and culvert blow outs if we get flooding rain.
With tree companies and green waste recycling organizations being overwhelmed at least for the next few weeks, if not longer, larger jobs that create more debris might be in bad timing.
As always, even though it's tempting to get pulled into the larger natural areas, when faced with limited time and resources, we know that preparing the home itself from embers and the 0–5-foot zone around the base of the structure is where efforts are best served in terms of wildfire resiliency. Both of these areas are nationally recognized, and reinforced in 2022 here in Texas, as being the most important areas for concentrated resiliency work to occur.
If you're in an area that allows debris burning:
One of the most common forms of disposal vegetative debris is burning, but careless debris burning is also the leading cause of wildfires in Texas. If you choose to burn your storm debris, keep these simple tips in mind.
- Check local weather conditions and for local outdoor burning restrictions.
- Clear vegetation and flammable materials at least 10’ away from your burn pile or burn barrel.
- Always have a water source nearby.
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Cover a burn barrel with metal screening to keep embers from flying out.
- Keep your pile small.
- Do not leave your fire until it is out cold.