Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – It’s difficult to see a tree that you’ve nurtured for years broken and battered. Trees damaged by recent snowstorms may require some heartbreaking decisions.

In parts of Missouri, wet, heavy snow and gusty winds did a number on trees and shrubs, causing branches to snap, splinter and break. If you have damaged tree branches, your first thought might be to break out the chain saw. That might not be a good idea.

“There’s a lot of energy stored in a bowed tree branch—enough force that even a small miscalculation can easily lead to serious injury,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “You also can’t accurately predict the angle of fall. If something is hanging from a strip of bark, it might not fall directly down. It might fall right at you.”

Trinklein recommends seeking the help of a professional for damaged branches that require climbing.

Before making any decisions about the fate of your tree, carefully look at the extent of the damage and assess the overall health of the tree.

“It could be that the tree was damaged because it’s diseased, weak or on its way out anyway,” Trinklein said. “The health of the tree might not be apparent until spring when the leaves come out.”

If major structural limbs have broken or if most of the crown has been destroyed, you might have to decide whether to give the tree time to heal itself or consider replacing the tree, he said.

“If 50 percent of the limbs have been damaged or taken down, the tree most likely should be taken down,” he said. “If the top has been taken out fairly far down on a tree that relies on a pyramidal shape to really look nice, then it too should probably be taken out.”

But don’t jump to hasty conclusions, Trinklein said. Just like you can’t unring a bell, you can’t uncut a tree once it’s down. If in doubt, wait.

“Don’t remove the entire tree until you see that there is little chance that the tree will recover, or even if it does recover in the future it’s not going to be attractive in your lawn,” he said.

Some damaged trees will only need pruning to put things right. Pruning a tree limb that is more than 3 inches in diameter requires three separate cuts. Make the first cut about 8 to 10 inches away from the trunk on the bottom of limb. Only cut halfway through the branch.

“The second cut is made about 4 inches beyond that first cut, beginning at the top and going straight through,” Trinklein said. “When you reach the point where the first cut ends, the branch will snap off and there will be somewhat of a stair-step or jagged end.”

Make the final cut about an inch to an inch and a half from the trunk and cut it off completely.

“The rule of thumb might be to leave enough of a stump to hang your hat,” Trinklein said. “This allows for more rapid healing of the tissue.”

To help protect a tree or shrub from future storm damage, start when it is young.

“A tree coming out of the nursery can have branches that are weak, misplaced or partially broken. They should be removed from the newly planted tree,” Trinklein said.

For more information, the following MU Extension publications are available for free download at

First Aid for Storm-Damaged Trees” (G6867)

Pruning and Care of Shade Trees” (G6866)

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