Tips to deal with ice-coated trees and downed limbs

WASHINGTON – Well-meaning homeowners may do more harm than good trying to remove ice from sagging tree limbs after Sunday’s freezing rain that coated the region in a layer of ice.

“With the ice we have now, I wouldn’t do anything,” says National Arboretum botanist and arborist Kevin Tunison.

Tunison says the weight of a light coat of ice poses no danger to the limbs of healthy trees. There is a point however at which shrubs or trees may need ice removal intervention.

“If you can see a break or it’s weakened already – what you might want to do is tap the branch slightly with a broomstick to remove ice,” Tunison says.

Tapping limbs from the underside of branches will prevent adding additional stress to ice weighted limbs.

Severe cold this winter that has not been accompanied by snow or ice has posed more of a danger to trees than the frozen precipitation. “I kind of wish that we’d had more snow to insulate the roots,” says National Arboretum research technician and arborist Susan Greeley.

Whether covering roots or coating branches — snow and ice acts as an insulator to protect tender areas from extreme cold. Greeley expects some trees that are accustomed to warmer climates may show signs of damage this spring.

And, there’s more than one benefit to snow cover. “As the snow melts, it irrigates,” Greeley says. “God’s irrigation.”

Downed trees or branches however can require immediate action.

“If a branch has fallen and brought down some utility wires, that can be very dangerous,” says Esther Bowring, spokeswoman with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

“We encourage anyone who sees ‘hot wires,’ as we call them, to call 911,” she says.

For those who have concerns about trees potentially bringing down or causing damage to power lines, the first phone call should be to their local utility company.

But for more inconvenient scenarios, like a tree blocking a city street, local transportation departments will typically be the agencies people should call to report downed or damaged trees on public property.

That is the case in Montgomery County, Fairfax County and D.C.

Severe icy conditions hit the D.C. area Monday morning, leading to dangerous conditions on roads and sidewalks.

Beach Drive was closed much of Monday morning after a tree fell across the road. And a large tree fell across Massachusetts Avenue hitting two parked SUVs late Sunday night.

Scattered patches of power outages were reported overnight and throughout the morning.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up