A large limb blocks Harvest Road near Falls Road in North Baltimore,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jerry…)
Homeowners: Put down your shovels and pick up your brooms.
Heavy snow of the kind dumped on the region this week is tough on trees and shrubs, and much of the damage is already done.
But experts agree that you can reduce the damage by using a broom to gently remove the snow from shrubs and brushing it off trees — especially evergreens — as high as you can reach.
Evergreens, because of their dense foliage, accumulate more snow, and their fine branching is more easily damaged by the weight of the snow. But they will also repair themselves by filling in with new growth over the summer.
Fallen branches and uprooted trees are a more serious problem. Branches that are obviously cracked should be removed, but a professional will be able to detect more serious structural damage. If you have concerns about your tree, call and get on their list.
After Wednesday night's storm, Sue Mullinary, who owns a Davey Tree service with husband Kevin, said she had a list of calls that filled five pages on a legal pad.
"We start with the trees that have fallen on something or on a driveway," she said from her Falls Road office. "Then we go to apartment complexes that are blocked."
But many of the calls came from regular clients who have less severe tree damage from the storm. "Broken branches, split trees, limbs down in the yard. They tell me to … get to them when we can."
Evergreens were hit the hardest, she said. Think of heavy snow on a fly-swatter, as opposed to snow on a kitchen whisk. "They just got nailed. The weight is just too much."
Firefighter Stephen Dolan, responding to emergency calls until after midnight Thursday, received a call from his nephew after a 60-foot pine tree, weighed down by wet and heavy snow, fell onto a house in Catonsville.
The uprooted pine tree sheared off siding, gutters and part of the roof. It broke a window on the second floor and landed on the kitchen roof.
Dolan said he was grateful no one, including tenants occupying one of two apartments in the 100-year-old Victorian home, was hurt.
But he had to finish his 24-hour shift with Montgomery County before he could return home to inspect the damage. "[Then] we got a call for a house with a tree on it," said Dolan. "And I thought this is probably what my house looks like."
After returning home at about 8 a.m., he and his nephew, 20-year-old Eric Dolan, attacked the fallen tree's branches with a chain saw. They could walk along the trunk from the torn-up roots to the second floor of his house.
"At least I won't have to sweep up any more pine needles," he said. "I always complained about that."
Barb McCullough of McCullough Tree Experts of Dundalk, who received a call for help from Dolan, also got a call for a tree in the middle of the street in Dundalk and, from Rosedale, a call from a homeowner whose Nellie Stevens holly had split in half.
"There will be more calls," she said. "People usually contact their insurance companies first."
Dolan was skilled enough to do some of the work himself, but Marian Honeczy, supervisor of neighborhood and community forestry for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said homeowners should be leery of contractors who knock on the front door and offer what seems like a great price to remove downed limbs or broken trees.
"If it seems like a really great price, it isn't," she said. That's because they aren't licensed in Maryland, something that requires proof of insurance, and that insurance isn't cheap. DNR has a list of licensed contractors on its website.
"They will flow in from out of state after a storm like this," said Honeczy, "and take the money and run." That's when she starts to get calls.
"If they do the work and they aren't insured, and if something happens — to them or to your property — your homeowners insurance is responsible," she said. "If the deal they offer seems cheap, they are probably not licensed."
Meanwhile, trees in the region will try to battle back from a second tough winter in a row. Wednesday night's heavy snow was as rough on them as last season's deep snow.
"The trees that were damaged last year are now weaker," said Honeczy. "This may require that more limbs be removed or the tree be removed."
In addition, if a tree has dead branches, shallow roots, rot or is already leaning heavily to one side, a winter storm can spell its end.
However, trees are remarkably resilient, and Honeczy advised homeowners to hang on until spring, when the sap rises in the trees, and they may witness a recovery. "You can be surprised."