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Why the oaks survived and the ashes split apart under Tuesday’s snow
As in so many areas of life, for Mother Nature, quality takes time.
That maxim serves to explain in part why some trees crumbled under the weight of Tuesday’s snowstorm while others held strong.
K-State Extension horticulturist Dennis Patton said hardwooded trees — like the giant pin oaks common throughout northeast Johnson County — have denser, stronger limbs that tends to fare better under the stress of a major snowstorm.
“These trees grow slowly, and because they grow slowly they have very strong trunks and branches,” he said. “The denser the wood, the stronger the tree.”
Conversely, soft wooded trees, like the ashes, decorative pears and maples common in newer subdivisions, often can’t handle the added weight of snow piled on their limbs, and are prone to splitting apart.
“Everyone seems to want a fast-growing tree when they’re planting, but the slow-growing ones are better suited for this area,” Patton said. “And unfortunately, the list of trees that will break up under added weight is a lot longer than the list of those that will hold up well.”
The summer’s drought conditions, while still causing problems for area trees, likely didn’t contribute in any significant fashion to the limb falloff. According to Patton, droughts don’t impact wood strength. Instead, they hamper the tree’s internal systems and prevent them from growing.
Patton also said evergreens tend to do well under snowstorm conditions, but primarily as a result of their branch structure, not their wood density. Evergreen branches tend to grow at what arborists call “wide crotch angles,” meaning they grow straight out from a trunk, as opposed to at an angle:
“The wider the crotch angle, the stronger the limb,” Patton said. “Many evergreen species have branches that are nearly perpendicular to the trunk, meaning the branches can grow extremely strong.”
If you (like we) are among the unlucky ones to have trees with major damage, Patton encourages you to find a reputable arborist to help clean up.
“My advice is that if you have to get off the ground, call a pro,” he said. “And make sure it’s a trusted company. We’ve already seen a couple of fly-by-night operators out there.”
Patton added that broken stubs should be pruned back all the way to the nearest major limb intersection.
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