The recent ice storm left behind a mess of downed limbs and broken branches throughout the park. Winter storms, and the damage they cause, are part of the natural cycle of forest growth and regeneration, but there is no doubt that the effects can be shocking. You may be wondering how The Parklands is responding to the storm.
First, you may have noticed that some of the smaller trees, such as the southern magnolias in front of the Gheens Foundation Lodge, were covered in black plastic bags beore the ice fell. Gary Rzepecki, Park Superintendent, notes that the southern magnolia’s large leaves hold more moisture making them particularly susceptible to damage. Luckily, these trees were covered by The Parklands horticulture team and weren’t heavily damaged. (Hint – if you have large southern magnolias at home it is especially important to keep them well mulched to protect their shallow roots).
Throughout the park we have plants bending down and broken limbs – particularly in the meadows and Garden Gateway areas. Rzepecki noted that the team will have to wait until the ice melts to begin the extensive pruning that will be needed to help these trees, “The broken branches will need to be given good, and proper, pruning to prevent damage from insects and diseases later in the year.”
Park evergreens have taken a particularly hard hit this winter from the below freezing temperatures. Evergreens keep their leaves all year and thus continue photosynthesis throughout the cold season. Recent frozen conditions prevent the trees from getting adequate nutrition through transpiration thereby putting them in a state of dorminancy. It’s hard to imagine, but to a pine a series of deep freezes in winter can be just as stressful as a long summer drought. Icing on February 5th caused further damage to these already stressed pines and cedars throughout the park. Rzepecki mentioned that red cedars in the park are accumulating ice and snow on the lower branches causing splits on lower limbs.
Trees within the forest canopy are somewhat sheltered and therefore sustain less damage during ice storms. Pasture trees, however, are highly susceptible to damage because they are so exposed. The damage has more to do with the weight of the ice that causes healthy limbs to break and crack under the pressure.
After the ice melts, perhaps around June at this current rate, the horticultural and natural area teams will assess the damage and begin the cleanup and recovery process. Our natural areas team will have lots of work in the coming months. Some of the trees may be slower to regain their former shape, but the forest will recover over time. And these trees will carry the shapes and impact of this winter for many decades to come – becoming another clue on the landscape about how hard the winter of 2014 was in the Bluegrass region.
Story by Hannah Graham, Interpretive Ranger for The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
Special thanks to Gary Rzepecki for his help with this article.