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Trees took a hit after ice, wind during the week
Local arborists assess, try to rectify damage to trees in time for Arbor Day
City of Gainesville employee Frank Hood braves the cold as a crew begins the cleanup process following this week’s ice storm. Hood and crew were working the heavily damaged trees along Ridgewood Avenue.

Arbor Day Celebration
Sponsored by the Hall County Master Gardeners, Keep Hall Beautiful and Georgia Power and hosted by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce
What: Public event including student art and essay contest recognition
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Elachee Nature Science Center; 2125 Elachee Drive, Gainesville
Contact: Robin Halstead, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, 770-532-6206

It’s been a tough week for all of North Georgia.

That’s true enough for the region’s trees, which suffered extreme damage due to the week’s ice, wind and freezing temperatures. Local arborists spent the week leading up to Arbor Day busier than ever, assessing and rectifying damage.

Odis Sisk, certified arborist and owner of Global Tree Preservation, said certain species are more prone to what arborists call “failure,” just by the nature of the species.

“What I’ve seen this week is the trees that are exposed to wind and ice and trees that have improper structure,” Sisk said. “So we have seen some entire tree failures, but mostly it has been trees that had a poor structure.”

Poor structure, according to Tim Costley, certified arborist with Superior Arbor Management, means a number of things, including rotting, hollowed parts or weak branches.

“To simplify it: This weeds out the weak trees,” Costley said.

The pines and evergreens that have a lot of canopy and catch a lot of ice are also affected by the weather, according to Costley.

Sisk said a fully mature beech tree, which has a large canopy, on average per season would have 200 pounds of foliage. When these trees get inundated with hundreds of additional pounds of ice, they cannot bear the load.

Such trees are particularly unable to bear large amounts of ice if they are in the South.

“The trees have not had a normal fracture cycle as they would if they were in, say, Wisconsin,” Sisk said. “These trees in the South have had the ability to grow unchecked without any natural acts like this for many years.”

Though many may suspect the damaged trees near their homes are beyond repair, Sisk and Costley said that may not be the case.

“If their rips aren’t too bad, the trees will be fine,” Sisk said. “What you want to have is an (International Society of Arboricutlure)-certified arborist, who understands the proper pruning, to give you an on-site visit to check whether the wound is bad enough that the tree should be removed.”

In most cases, Sisk said, simply removing broken branches and branches that are overextended will help the tree and prevent such a thing from happening again.

“In a normal circumstance — if this wasn’t near a home — it would be fine, they could break and fall apart the way trees always have done for billions of years,” Sisk said.

Many of the damaged trees in the area are also young trees, planted by owners who haven’t done the proper structural pruning.

“If you plant a tree, you should plan to prune the tree every 2-5 years until the tree is half its mature height,” Sisk said. “That helps develop a good structure so the branches aren’t aligned in one origin point, and it helps reduce the likelihood of co-dominant stems, or stems starting from the same point.”

These are all factors that can lead to damaged trees or property in winter storms.

Costley said to remember there is no need to rush to take down damaged trees. He and Sisk suggested calling a certified arborist who can properly assess the damage.

Sisk said he’s seen people this week working on trees without proper protection, including head protection, eye protection, hearing protection and chain saw protection. He said while the trees are still bearing a heavy load of ice, it’s important to proceed with caution and allow a professional to handle it.

In the future, Sisk said, tree owners should consider properly pruning their trees to prevent damage in the next storm.

“That’s what we do as arborists,” he said. “When we’re pruning trees, we’re looking for areas that are structurally unsound and we try to reduce those areas.”

For Arbor Day today, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce will recognize the finalists in the Arbor Day Student Art and Essay Program in a celebration at 10 a.m. at the Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville.

“Trees are the backbone to good water, healthy soil, clean air and natural beauty, said Michael Wheeler, Hall County Cooperative Extension coordinator. “We celebrate Arbor Day each year to remind ourselves of the importance trees have in our community and how they make a difference for Gainesville-Hall County’s quality of life.”

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