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Trees After the Freeze: Tips for Knowing What’s Going on with Your Tree

By March 18, 2021July 11th, 2023No Comments
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Written by: Collin McMichael

Most trees, especially the evergreens around town, are not looking so hot right now.  You have probably heard that it’s a good idea to wait and see what happens, which is true, but do you know what you need to do when what happens, happens? Tree pruning can be a complicated subject on the best of days, but once you throw freeze damage and general tree stress into the mix, it’s downright scary! Hopefully, the following tips will help take some of the guesswork out of the next couple of weeks. 

What to look out for: 

Widowmakers – These are large dead branches either hanging by a strip of wood or bark or that have already fallen and were caught by branches lower down. These are hazardous and can be a risk to people in the area.  If in doubt, call an arborist.

Oak Wounds – Oak trees are susceptible to oak wilt, so be sure to paint any wounds on your oak tree! If your oak was injured in the storm and you haven’t painted it yet, you still have time.  You can cut the remaining broken limb off the tree completely and paint the new cut for good results.  If it’s a large limb you should call an arborist.  

Leaf Drop – Leaf drop is usually a biological process meaning your tree is still alive!  But, sometimes freeze damage can destroy tissue so thoroughly that the leaves drop anyway.

Scratch Testing – Scratch a twig with your thumbnail, your thumb should notice some give and your nail should bite into the wood as though it is moist. As you are scratching, be sure not to go too deep. Stop when and if you see green.  A green cambium layer indicates that the tree is alive.  Unfortunately, you did just wound your tree so this may not be the best advice for oaks.  If you scratch your oak, and its green, you might want to paint that wound so you don’t invite oak wilt into your tree. If your cambium is green, you will likely see your tree leaf out again this year!  

Dormant Buds – If the growing tips have died, dormant buds along the stem may activate and produce new shoots. If they do, it indicates that your tree is still alive.

Root suckers – In case your tree has died back to the roots, it may still come back through root suckers.  Root suckers are fast-growing shoots that come from dormant buds in the roots.  These can replace the lost above-ground tissue very quickly

Grafted Trees – Root suckers from grafted trees will be a different type of tree than you had before (ie, most fruit trees’ rootstock do not make desirable fruit).  On grafted trees that saw the loss of above-ground tissues, you can regraft the desirable tree to the rootstock for faster establishment.  For example, a ‘Meyer’ lemon that was lost in the freeze will likely see trifoliate orange root suckers.  Grafting new ‘Meyer’ lemon budwood onto the trifoliate orange suckers will lead to a larger lemon tree than planting a new, 5-gallon ‘Meyer’ lemon.  

Tips for Specific Trees

Deciduous Trees: The vast majority of these should be fine.

Retama:  These may have lost above-ground tissue or be completely lost.  Look for green stems.  Yellow or orange stems are dead.

Pomegranate: These may have lost above-ground tissue or be completely lost.  Check for green cambium in above-ground tissue and watch for root sprouts.

Flowering and Fruiting Trees: These likely lost any buds that were developing before the freeze.  As such, diminished crops and reduced resources for wildlife will be seen across central Texas.

Evergreen Trees: The vast majority of these saw damage to their leaves at least. Many saw broken branches from ice accumulation.

Eastern Redcedar/Ashe Juniper: These may have a few broken limbs.  Clean up the break.  The tree will be fine granted they have at least 60% of their canopy intact.

Yaupon:  These saw minimal damage and some blackened leaves.  The berry crop was lost, so you may need to supplement bird populations with additional food. 

Evergreen Oaks: We are hoping these are fine.  Live oaks seem to have lost most of their canopy in some areas, but we are hopeful they will leaf out again. Canbys seem to have fared okay.  The worst hit was the Monterey White Oak, some of which may be completely lost. But, only time will tell.

Loquat:  These are getting worse and worse as time goes on, but we are hopeful some will resprout.  Loquats don’t do well with massive reductions in the canopy, so make sure they are well-mulched and well-watered.

Texas Mountain Laurel:  These are also getting worse and worse as time goes on.  Some look all right; more looked brown and crispy.  Leaf loss is a good sign, as is new bright green growth.  Don’t expect flowers this year.

Citrus: Only kumquats seem to have fared okay.  Regraft budwood to rootstock for best results.

If you have questions about your tree, its prognosis, or potential replacement choices, please contact for more information!

Please call a certified arborist to find out exactly what’s going on with your tree, especially if it seems like it is dangerous. 

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