Brittle trees paid highest price in storm

January 28, 2012

Willows, birches, poplars, cottonwoods and locusts: Their broken limbs and shattered trunks lay in heaps around Valley residences in disproportionate numbers following this week's ice storm.

It seems that the body-count bears out tree-expert predictions.

Some trees just aren't designed for rugged weather and those varieties top the list of "undesirables" most affected by our recent weather event.

"Willows are beautiful but they have a tendency to get rot and are really brittle," said Elizabeth Daniels, Oregon State University Master Gardener program assistant. "Some trees just aren't meant to live a long time."

Homeowners often plant fast-growing species like willows to reach shade-size height in a hurry. What they don't realize is the long-term cost that can be associated with those choices.

Fast-growing trees typically have more brittle wood and often develop large V-shaped diversions from their main trunks - creating inherent storm weaknesses in their structure. They also require more regular maintenance.

A "V" within a tree trunk is a place where water may collect or pool, leading to potential decay. Decay points are time bombs waiting to happen in a cold-weather event.

In addition, during ice storms, frozen water weight accumulates around every twig and branch, bringing incredible pressures on the weight-bearing infrastructure of the tree.

That is when tree design and cellular density really matter.

If you have a "sketchy" tree type in your yard, or have a "good" tree that hasn't been pruned in a while, you may already be a victim of this latest storm. However, it is not too late to learn about tree survival.

According to Daniels, "Using local orchards as an example, we can see that they sustained very little damage."

Orchards are regularly pruned and consist of locally appropriate trees. Older trees are also removed when they reach the end of their most productive time (a reflection of life expectancy).

"People who had been caring for their residential trees - having them pruned regularly - suffered much less damage," added Daniels.

Regular tree maintenance not only reduces surface area for heavy ice to adhere to, it also ensures owners can identify and remove rot-damaged limbs and keep dangerous limbs away from structures before there is a problem.

When it comes to storm cleanup for those trees with damage, pruning techniques are important - sometimes making the difference in the tree's long-term survival. See the sidebar illustration on step-by-step pruning techniques on A1. The Arbor Day foundation also provides an online video pruning tutorial at

With removal sometimes necessary, researching safe cutting and felling techniques or engaging local tree service companies will prevent potential injuries.

Choosing new plantings from a list of expert-suggested, climate-appropriate "street trees" is a good way to plan for the future. Those trees tend to be best-suited to handle differing growing conditions with the most stability, said Daniels.

On Jan. 25, OSU announced the release of the most sophisticated "plant-hardiness zone map" ever created in the U.S., created for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, providing a new tool for the estimated 80 million gardeners in the country who are seeking to plant appropriately for their climate.

The map was created by researchers at OSU using, for the first time, geographic information system (GIS)-based software that has resulted in an interactive map that is more accurate, detailed and useable than any previous model.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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