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An iced-over tree? 'Leave it alone'

Monday - 12/9/2013, 11:42am  ET

SAMANTHA.jpg
Trying to free encased branches from ice will likely end up damaging them, an arborist says. (WtOP/Samantha Loss)
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WASHINGTON - It's a common sight in the area today: Trees and shrubs encased in ice, with branches bending from the weight.

You may think you're doing the plants a favor by breaking the ice off, but an expert says, "leave it alone."

Christine Moore, an arborist and curator of the National Herb Garden at the National Arboretum, says that branches are brittle right now. Suddenly releasing the weight of the ice will cause them to suddenly snap skyward while they're still not flexible.

Moore's advice? "Leave them and let nature melt them naturally. ... They are flexible on their own, and they will eventually stand back up."

Then and only then, you should check to see whether any branches have split. If they have, you should prune below the split but above the next healthy node (the part where leaves come out).

You don't want to cut into healthy wood, Moore says, but you have to get rid of the broken parts - that's where disease and insects can come in.

That's probably not the only mistake you're making, Moore says. The most common error homeowners make is trying to do things themselves when they really should hire a professional.

Too many homeowners, she says, haul out the chainsaw to do heavy-duty pruning, "thinking they can handle major damage on their own. And a lot of times, that is unwise."

Moore explains that "there's a lot of physics involved" in pruning trees and shrubs.

"If you miscalculate, you could end up having a branch falling and damaging your neighbor's car or your house, or even do serious damage to yourself."

Her rule of thumb? "If it's above your head, or you need to get on a ladder, I would suggest calling an arborist."

WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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