TORONTO, Ont. – The ice storm that raked across southern Ontario in late December left massive devastation in its wake, causing damage that many homeowners, companies and municipalities are still trying to recover from.

While the true extent of the damage may not be seen until spring when the weather warms, homeowners can conduct a visual inspection of their trees for any obvious signs of damage, looking for badly sagging or split branches, branches that have not returned to their former position, or a broken or severed branch that remains hung up in the tree. If any of these conditions are present it is advisable to seek the advice of an arborist todetermine the full extent of the damage and also to advise on any safety issues.

"More than likely, if the tree was healthy before the storm, it is still going to be healthy after the storm," says Rory Quigley, President of the International Society of Arboriculture Ontario and an arborist with the Town of Cobourg. "I would definitely encourage homeowners to to call a professional arborist to assess the damage. And don’t be afraid to get a few quotes and ask for references."

Arborists convene at Congress

Meanwhile, arborists from across Ontario attended Landscape Ontario’s 41st annual Congress, Canada’s Premier Trade Show and Conference this week, where they took in seminars on tree health and growth, saw the latest in tree care equipment and ensured they have the most current information for maintaining tree health in any environment. As with any lawn or landscape question, homeowners’ top go-to reference resource is; visit the site for information and inspiration on plants and landscaping, as well as help finding professionals in the industry’s many specialties.

"These seminars are incredibly valuable for landscaping professionals," says Terry Childs, the chair of Landscape Ontario’s show committee and president of Nature’s Way Landscaping in Gananoque, Ont. "While they are educational, they also reinforce that what we are doing is the right thing. It ensures landscape professionals know how to help trees and plants survive through Canada’s harsh winter months."

The professional advice of a qualified arborist is often a free consultation that allows property owners to avoid the unnecessary loss of a healthy but damaged tree. There is a good chance most trees will survive the damage – even if less a few branches – but it is nonetheless important that proper steps be taken to ensure the tree can return to full health. A qualified arborist can often recommend the proper pruning process to help the tree survive.

A healthy trunk is vital

Key to a tree’s health after a severe storm is a healthy trunk. If it has come through the storm relatively unscathed, there is a very good chance the tree can be saved but not without a little work.

"If less than half the tree has been damaged, there is still a good opportunity to work with the tree and bring it back to health," says Quigley. "Proper pruning will generate new growth. When we are sick we seek out a doctor to help us get better, when a beloved family pet is ill we take them to a veterinarian. You trust these professional when you need help, and it is the same with trees. When they are in de-stress and need help, seeking out the help of a professional arborist can help in protecting and prolong the life and all the benefits our trees give back."

As it is impossible to predict the severity of a storm, it is is difficult to predict how trees will be impacted. But homeowners can work to prevent the damage caused by storms through regular maintenance of their trees.

"An assessment of your trees done every three to five years is the best way to protect yourself against costly property or tree damage caused by ice and wind storms," says Paul Ronan, the executive director of the Ontario Parks Association. "An arborist can quickly identify structural weaknesses that will not withstand extreme weather conditions, a service that will cost significantly less than the aggravation of insurance claims, structural house, garage or fence damage not to mention the liability and personal or public safety risks from falling limbs, branches and trees."

In fact, there may be some benefits to tree damage during an ice storm, as opposed to being damaged in a wind storm in the middle of summer, says Mike Rosen, president of Tree Canada and a veteran of the 1998 ice storm that hit eastern Ontario.

"In winter, trees are dormant and further injury by insects and disease is less likely than if the injury occurs during the growing season," says Rosen. "Recovery depends on the health of the tree, the amount of maintenance before the damage, especially preventive pruning, and the extent of the damage; healthy, well-maintained trees with few damaged branches should recover and in time the crown may even appear normal."