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Volume xviii, Issue 13 ~ Apri 1 to April 7, 2010

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Bay Gardener

by Dr. Francis Gouin

Repairing Winter’s Damage

You can’t save every deciduous and broadleaf evergreen

Don’t waste your time, energy and materials trying to mend broken branches and tree trunks with wire, tape or bolts. Once the wood has been exposed to the environment, even for a very short time, it becomes contaminated and dries out. Wire, tape or bolt it together and the contaminated area becomes an incubation chamber for rotting organisms to become active as temperatures warm. Once the rot-causing organisms become established, they are capable of invading the entire trunk and its branches.

Branches begin to die, and the shrub declines rapidly. Before you know it, you’ve got a hazard that needs to be removed.


• If the trunk of the tree has split, making the tree no longer acceptable, cut it down as soon as possible and replace it with a new tree.

• If large branches have broken, leaving large stumps and making the tree less attractive, cut it down. The area left vacant will never return to normal.

• Prune away the broken branches of deciduous or broadleaf evergreens that have been damaged by snow and ice.

If the shrub had outgrown its usefulness, now is the time to cut it back to below its desirable size and allow the plant to rejuvenate. These species have latent buds and are capable of producing adventitious buds, from which new branches will arise.

A Case Study in Repair

Q After the snow melt and a few days after sizing up the damage, I noticed my Waterfall Japanese maple had some serious cracks in the bark/trunk. I have an old Japanese maple of no known ancestry that had a major limb taken off in 2003, and, though ugly, the wound seems to have healed. This newly damaged plant is smaller, younger and survived a transplant about two years ago. The plant is knee-high and has about a four-foot leaf spread. Damage is a crack in the main trunk where the first branching starts. It’s probably at least an inch or two deep and runs four or five inches the long way.

A small branch of about a half-inch was nearly broken off. I taped it with duct tape in hopes of it growing back together. One other branch was ripped off, leaving a ragged shallow open area about three to four inches.

Do you have any recommendations?

–Elaine Lahn

A You could bolt those branches together using stainless steel bolts and stainless steel washers. However, Japanese maples are extremely susceptible to verticillium wilt. If the wound has been open for several weeks and exposed to the environment, it is likely that the heart wood is heavily contaminated and heart rot will progress rapidly once the wound is bolted tightly together. This means that four to five years from now, the center will rot and the tree will die.

You have a grafted Japanese maple. Repairing grafted plants is more difficult because it forces the root stock to sprout. I would replace the plant.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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