Damage to trees, shrubs expected after long winter

Winter burn, broken branches and wildlife damage expected.

Tree damage.jpg
Despite fencing and plastic tree trunk protectors, this young tree sustained extensive damage from rabbits over the winter.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Property owners might find various types of damage to trees and bushes after this year’s long winter, said Erik Laber, Jamestown city forester.

Winter burn

“Evergreens are going to have a lot of issues this year,” he said. “You see a lot of them … that are orange or yellow, so that’s going to be from winter burn. They didn’t have enough moisture going into winter …” and the strong winds through the winter dried them out.

“So depending on what the moisture looks like, all this (moisture from snow) soaks in, (people) might still have to keep watering trees this year,” Laber said. “Drought the last two years hasn’t helped any of the trees so I’ve been happy for the snow on that front. There was no moisture to freeze in the soil last fall so it never did freeze up.”

Laber said a tree can have two to three years of nutrition but the last two years of drought depleted it.

“So this year they’re already starting off behind from that two years so they’ll still need babying this year,” he said.


Laber recommends people check the moisture around the tree to determine if it needs watering. Take a shovel, put it in the ground and lift it to the side to see 6 inches down to determine if it’s moist or dry. The Arbor Day Foundation at recommends 10 gallons of water for each inch of the tree’s diameter, measured at knee height, and says keeping the soil consistently moist (not soggy) is important for a healthy tree.

Trees and shrubs that were stressed can benefit from fertilizer, Laber said. While nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the common nutrients, some fertilizers also include a small amount of iron which helps with photosynthesis. Spikes can be popular for fertilizing but the cost can add up if a large number is needed for larger trees, he noted.

Mulching trees with wood chips is also beneficial, he noted. Trees mulched through drought fare better than those in a grass lawn, those located near more trees or next to concrete, he said.

Bent and broken branches

Bent and broken bushes are also expected this spring, Laber said, from wet snow during the winter that would cling to branches and pull them down. Businesses might also see those issues if snow melted, turned to ice and flattened bushes where gutters either weren’t present or overflowed. That is seen a lot in arborvitae, he said.

“A lot of people have columnar ones (arborvitae) that weren’t pruned to a single leader,” he said.

In those cases, snow can break the “joker” pieces. While it’s possible they may be saved in some cases, their form won’t return to what they were, Laber said. Arborvitae trimmed to a solitary leader don’t have as many issues as those that are not, he said.

Evergreens are going to have a lot of issues this year. You see a lot of them … that are orange or yellow, so that’s going to be from winter burn.
Erik Laber, Jamestown city forester

Depending on a branch that is broken in a tree, it could be cut off depending on what percent of the tree it makes up and the tree will be fine, Laber said. A side branch in a young tree can be slowly angled to grow in the desired direction to become the leader.

Deer/rabbit damage

“There’s going to be a lot of issues with that (damage from wildlife), especially like arborvitae …,” Laber said.


Rabbits and deer will eat what’s above the snow line during winter, he noted.

“So you might find you have a stretch in the middle of your bush that’s defoliated and it’s pretty much shot then,” Laber said. “If all the growing points are eaten there’s not really anything to grow back from. So it depends on how bad it is. I’ve seen it sprout from the stems before but that takes years and years and years and that’s not a guarantee. So usually those bushes are just done for if … they’ve stripped it really bad.

Some bushes such as lilacs, honeysuckles and dogwoods can be hard pruned and they will recover, he said.

Younger trees are attractive to rabbits and deer because they’re sweet and the thin bark is easy to consume, he said.

“Sometimes you’ll see more damage on maples and birch trees, the younger ones because they’re pretty thin barked and have a higher sugar content,” Laber said.

Fruit trees are sweeter and often thin barked too.

Some trees can be salvaged despite the damage and others cannot, Laber said.

“If they’ve completely girdled the stem, everything away from the trunk or the roots, past that is done for,” he said. “So if they’ve completely stripped the bark, anything above that. Anything outward from that is toast.”


Frost damage

Frost damage remains possible with the swings in temperature Jamestown has seen this year. While some trees are built to withstand those swings, if they don’t have enough time to harden back off it can damage them, Laber said. A lot of frost damage occurred in the last few years after a late frost when some trees broke dormancy and that’s possible this year too.

“Maples and birch especially were jumping the gun on breaking dormancy and they couldn’t harden back off quick enough when you get that hard cold snap again days later,” he said.

“There’s not a lot you can do,” he added.

Frost cracking is another issue to watch for because a fungus is likely to invade through a crack in the trunk and then cankers follow. Generally, when there is a canker in the trunk it kills the tree over time, Laber said.

Jamestown Planting Partners

The Jamestown Planting Parnters program provides property owners with the opportunity for reimbursement for some of the cost to plant trees on boulevards in the city.

Sponsors partner with the city of Jamestown to provide matching funds for those plantings. The program offers reimbursement per tree $30 to $50 or half of the cost of the tree, whichever is less, up to a maximum of $400 per property.

Plantings require a free permit obtained at City Hall, consulting with the city forester on the planting, inspecting the site once planted, submitting copies of the receipt and filing out a form.

The Jamestown Community Foundation holds the funds for the reimbursement program, which is not part of the city budget, Laber said, adding that donations to the fund are welcome.


“It’s very nice of the community foundation to hold that fund for us,” he said.

The city of Jamestown also has a recommended species list of trees for people to consider when planting trees.

People with questions on trees or other issues may contact Laber at City Hall at 252-5900. For more resources, visit the city of Jamestown at or NDSU Extension at

Kathy Steiner has been the editor of The Jamestown Sun since 1995. She graduated from Valley City State College with a bachelor's degree in English and studied mass communications at North Dakota State University, Fargo. She reports on business, government and community topics in the Jamestown area. Reach her at 701-952-8449 or
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