December Storms Revealed Winner, Loser Trees

Bald cypress fared well; Siberian elms had massive damage.

The "poster child" for the extensive tree damage left in the wake of December's icy storms has to be the Siberian elm, according to Ward Upham, Kansas State University horticulturist.

"Often mistakenly called the Chinese elm, the Siberian suffered such extensive damage that many of the trees now need to be removed. The big, mature elms were the most at risk," says Upham, who coordinates the Master Gardener program for K-State Research and Extension.

The damage would have been much worse, he said, if the storms had
also brought high winds.

"Another thing we can be grateful for is that this kind of weather can teach us a lot about which trees are strong and which are not," Upham said. "Trees are a long-term investment. Choosing those that will stand up to the Plains' often-challenging conditions is vital to seeing that investment pay off."

December's weather created exceptions to every rule of thumb, he cautioned.

Grouped as a variety or species, the ornamental trees that had the least damage were: bald cypress, crabapple, ginkgo, goldenraintree, honeylocust, Kentucky coffeetree, linden, amur maple, Autumn Blaze maple, red maple, Shantung maple, sugar maple, bur oak, swamp white oak, red oak, Osage orange, Aristocrat pear, Chanticleer pear, Austrian pine, Chinese pistache, London planetree, redbud, sweet gum, sycamore, and zelkova (Asian relative of the elm).

"The bald cypress is on the 'did well' list. Still, a few did end up with a broken central leader. The bald cypress is deciduous, but these had retained enough needles on their leader to collect ice," Upham said. "Retained foliage and previous health made a huge difference in individual trees' fate."

The tree groups that fared the worst were the river birch, Siberian elm, silver maple, Russian olive, Bradford pear and the willows - including the hybrid willow from Australia, called the Austree.

"Knowing these ratings should help in choosing replacement trees," Upham says. "They show, for example, that you'd better not buy just any Callery pear. The Aristocrat and Chanticleer varieties got through the storms almost unscathed. But another Callery, the Bradford pear, can't handle storms."

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