May 28, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Many central and northern Kentucky residents are still dealing with the effects of the ice storm of February 2003. Some trees are still dropping dead branches and are slow to leaf out.

“It is my feeling that the meteorological event in February is the reason for branch death and abnormally late leaf out,” said Bill Fountain, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension professor of arboriculture. “It was cold prior to the onset of the ice storm. Then more than 1.5 inches of ice accumulated on exposed twigs and branches.”

Fountain said the normal freeze-thaw cycle usually is not a problem since it occurs hundreds of times throughout the winter season. However, during this storm the weight of the ice bent the frozen branches downward, breaking the frozen conductive tubes. As ice on the branch surfaces melted, the still-frozen branches became more upright, causing more long-term damage.

“As the ice melted, the still-living twigs and buds became upright only to die later as the plant was unable to transport water and mineral elements past the points of damage,” Fountain said. “Many of these branches are now dead and cannot be expected to produce new leaves. Removal of the larger dead branches by pruning is the only beneficial treatment.”

As Kentucky moves toward hotter and dryer months, trees will be susceptible to leaf scorch and additional twig death on severely damaged trees. Fountain said fertilization is not necessarily the answer.

“Spring fertilization may result in large amounts of growth that the plant will not be able to support as the transpiration rate increases in summer and rainfall becomes limited,” he said. “My best recommendation is to irrigate as necessary during dry periods to ensure water does not become a limiting factor for trees and shrubs.”

Insects and diseases also may be problems for already-stressed trees and shrubs because stressed plants are less capable of producing defensive chemicals and compartmentalizing damaged tissues than healthy plants, Fountain said.

He recommends using protective insecticidal sprays, especially for species such as dogwood, redbud, ash and red maple since they are especially susceptible to borers and other destructive pests.

By using integrated pest management practices and anticipating problems before they occur, those taking care of trees and plants will be more prepared and could ward off damage and disease.

Fountain said practicing sound management procedures in urban landscapes will help keep the environment safe, healthy and beautiful.

“Extreme weather events make us realize no matter how advanced we think we are, we are at the mercy of our environment,” he said. “Losses from wind and ice are not a total loss if we use the opportunity to learn and correct past mistakes.”


Bill Fountain  859-257-3320