Dry summer, heavy snow leave area trees damaged

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published January 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 4, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.
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Motorists stop to view power lines damaged by fallen trees after the winter storm that hit the area on Christmas Day. After months of drought during the summer, trees became brittle, and limbs broke after ice and heavy snow fell, according to tree-removal experts.

Ice and heavy snow deposited by the Christmas Day winter storm left many area homeowners with lawns full of limbs.

The damage, tree removal experts said, was exacerbated by the months of drought that hit the area this summer.

“It didn’t take much ice to start breaking them down,” said Jeff Jarvis of Jarvis Tree Services in Heber Springs. “The drought made the trees brittle. We’ve seen a lot of limbs down, mostly pine trees, cedar and spruce.”

Chad Lepley of Monkey Tree Service in Bald Knob said the majority of tree damage he was called to help with occurred in Pulaski and Faulkner counties, though many trees in the Bald Knob area had seen limb loss.

“I went and looked at a lady’s house in Searcy that had a pine completely split in half,” Lepley said.

Harder woods, such as oak, can typically handle the weight of ice and snow, Lepley said, unless the tree has been infected with a fungus or already has weak, hollow spots. Softer wood trees, such as maple and pine, aren’t so lucky.

“The biggest problems are when you get a quarter-inch of ice, because pine trees just can’t handle it,” Lepley said.

Bradford pear trees are also likely to snap under the weight of snow and ice, said Jim Birkhead of Jim’s Tree Care in Batesville. Birkhead, who has been working in the business for more than 50 years, said that no matter how bad the damage, there’s usually hope that a tree can be saved.

“We’re as good as doctors are,” Birkhead said. “We save more trees than we let die.”

The first steps in the process of tree doctoring after storm damage typically involve cutting broken limbs flush to the tree. Some advocate using mixes of peroxide or commercial tree-wound sprays to help keep out bugs and pathogens.

“If a tree’s been busted in half, if you have to trim back one-third of the tree, you have about a 50 percent chance of killing it,” Lepley said. “It’s like losing your arm. It’s never going to grow back.”

Calls to tree services began to pick up as soon as the snow stopped on Dec. 26. Jarvis has been to 50 or 60 calls in the Heber Springs area. He used to seeing those numbers in spring or summer, when most people have trees trimmed back. Though Lepley has seen an increase in calls, he expects requests to pour in again after insurance companies have had a chance to assess damage in the area. Others will wait until the snow has melted completely before they decide to begin cleanup.

Most trees in the Three Rivers area, Lepley said, would recover from the type of limb damage he’s seen following the snow. Although no one can totally prevent tree damage from a storm, Lepley said, those homeowners who regularly have their trees trimmed saw less damage than those who never cut back their trees.

“I had a man in Bald Knob whose trees I trimmed, and it was just little limbs that fell out,” Lepley said. “He didn’t have as much damage because he didn’t have as much weight on the tree. Even an oak tree that hasn’t been taken care of can’t handle a quarter-inch of ice and then snow.”

Birkhead has seen preventative maintenance make a difference on Bradford pear trees, and evergreens as well.

“It helps so much,” Birkhead said. “We take care of a bank [property] here, and before we started taking care of the trees, [they] would see big breakage every year, and now they maybe have 10 percent of the damage they did before.”

Birkhead and Lepley said it’s the cost that usually makes homeowners hesitate to get their trees trimmed ahead of time. While they look at mowing grass as a necessity, Birkhead said, tree care isn’t often a priority. And even the most well-maintained trees can end up damaged after a winter storm.

When trees are damaged beyond repair, Birkhead said, he tries to break it to the owner gently.

“People, when they get to the age I am — they don’t have 50 years to wait and grow another tree,” Birkhead said. “It can be very upsetting. You have to be able to empathize.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501)399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Associate Features Editor Emily Van Zandt can be reached at .

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