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Nurturing trees back to health after a snowstorm : Insights from Matt Smith at Riveredge Nature Center

Washington Co., Wi – Tree limbs across Washington County, Wi bow low under the weight of heavy snow. Some tips of branches touch the ground while others have snapped off collapsing under the sheer dense volume of winter white.

In the wake of the last snowstorm, many homeowners in West Bend, Hartford, and neighboring Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties are left wondering about the fate of their beloved trees.

Broken branches, disheartening appearances, and concerns about the overall health of the trees often lead to questions about recovery. Matt Smith is Director of Research and Conservation at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, WI. He is an experienced arborist and restoration ecologist specializing in forested ecosystems.

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Smith emphasized diverse conditions and species in our landscape and how each recovers in its own unique way. “Trees don’t exactly ‘heal’ but are adept at compartmentalizing and growing over damaged areas,” he said. “To aid this process, proper pruning is recommended along the tree’s anatomy to facilitate optimal wound closure.”

cast iron

For trees seemingly permanently bent or damaged, Smith advised giving them time, especially if they are not posing an immediate threat. “The spring push of sap can contribute to restoring rigidity,” he said. “The adaptive physiology of woody plants has allowed them to survive winter storms for centuries.”


Smith was upbeat with his approach on what may appear to be a disheartening situation. He discussed rejuvenation and how some plants, especially shrubs, can recover through techniques like coppicing. “This involves cutting at the base during the dormant season, allowing the plant to re-sprout vigorously and potentially improve its form and structural integrity,” he said.

While pruning might be necessary, Smith highlighted the value of deadwood for insects and native animals. “Creating stick piles can provide habitat and refugia for pollinators,” he said emphasizing the ecological importance of deadwood in a backyard setting.

Pruning is also a good strategy, but Smith stressed the importance of “timing when pruning” different tree species, such as oaks, birches, maples, and fruit trees.

Smith will host a pruning class at Riveredge Nature Center on February 23, 2024.
Click HERE for more details.

Smith encouraged homeowners to think about long-term changes when dealing with uneven branches or damaged limbs. He strongly advised against risky practices like climbing ladders with saws, stressing the importance of safety and proper tree care techniques.

On an endnote, Smith was encouraging. “After a snowstorm, trees may appear damaged and disheartening, but with the right knowledge and care, recovery is possible,” he said.

“There have been many winter storms for hundreds of thousands of years and these plants are still here, because they have adaptive measures to survive that.”
On a side note: This April we will celebrate Earth Week and A&W Iron and Metal has offered a special Black Hills Spruce tree giveaway for families. Stay tuned.
Murphy & Prachthauser

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