Winter is coming. You know it is. The long-range forecast for this winter is warmer and wetter weather. While there will be snow, that forecast would indicate ice could also be a factor. Ice doesn’t just make driving, even walking hazardous, it can be disastrous for trees and shrubs.

It’s okay to brush off dry, fluffy snow with a broom. Doing this helps evergreens, like arborvitae and juniper, because they’re more prone to snow damage. Still, only consider brushing trees during or right after a storm when the snow is soft, advise the people at Davey Tree Experts.

When brushing your tree, use a soft broom and always sweep upward rather than from the top down. Branches that have been sitting under snow for a while, or are covered in snow and ice, should not be brushed off. Wait for snow and ice to melt completely.

In spring, check your tree for any breakage. Small, broken twigs shouldn’t be a problem, but have your arborist take a look if large branches are damaged or if the tree was uprooted. Begin now by inspecting trees and shrubs for branches that are especially long and which could do major damage if they become covered in ice and break. Selective pruning can help ward off damage before it ever occurs.

But if you find entire trees bent over by ice — birches and some firs and spruce are especially vulnerable — here’s what the tree experts, at Davey Tree say. If your trees are bent over by ice, the best thing you can do is: nothing at all. Well, at least to start off. While you shouldn’t take action the moment you spot ice on your tree, you can proactively plan for ways to help your tree once the ice melts.

Below, read about the steps you should take after finding ice on your tree.

What to do with ice-covered trees:

As mentioned, when your trees are bent over by ice, it’s best to leave them alone. But why?

Ice coating on branches can be very thick. Plus, tree branches are brittle in winter. So, if you try to break the ice off, you’ll probably cause more damage than just letting it melt on its own. Instead of attempting to remove the ice, here’s what you can do about frozen tree branches.

Frozen tree branches:

The good news about frozen tree branches is that the ice will eventually melt, and trees that were only bent under the weight of ice should straighten up in no time.

If a tree branch is hanging or broken after the ice melts, proper pruning is the key to recovery. Pruning not only removes hazardous branches that pose a risk to your safety, but it also improves the tree’s overall structure and strength, which will be a big help the next time a storm hits.

If you’re up for the task, you can prune small tree branches yourself. But, never try to prune heavy or large branches—those should always be left to the professionals. Of course, you can reach out to an arborist to take care of the small branches, too! Contact an arborist for help with pruning broken branches.

What to do when a large branch breaks off:

If a tree loses a large branch, it won’t be as stable or balanced as it was before. Cabling and bracing can help with that. Installing steel cables helps anchor trees so they’re better able to handle storms. If your tree lost a large branch, Get in contact with a local arborist to find out if it’s a good candidate for cabling and bracing.

How to prevent ice damage to trees:

Proper pruning is one way. Particularly important is the removal of weak, narrow-angled, v-shaped crotches, according to the North Carolina State University Extension.

Trees that tend to suffer the worst damage as a result of snow and ice are multiple leader, upright evergreens like arborvitae and juniper, and multiple leader or clump trees like birch, per the University of Minnesota Extension's research. On these trees, locating and pruning weak-jointed branches before they become a problem is important. Slow-growing trees like oak are less likely to lose limbs. When it comes to ice, age does not make a tree stronger; younger trees actually tend to survive better in ice storms.

Shaking branches can do more harm than good:

When you find your trees are bending or drooping as a result of ice and snow accumulation, your first instinct is probably to shake the branches and free them of the winter burden. It is not recommended, unless the snow is very dry and fluffy. Branches coated in ice can become quite brittle and shaking them can cause damage or breakage.

Also, since trees are flexible, suddenly knocking the ice weight off may cause branches to snap back, potentially damaging the tree's circulatory system.

If after a severe ice storm, you notice some limb breakage, properly prune the damaged area as soon as the weather allows. In the case of undamaged limbs bending under the weight of ice or snow, don't prune as a means of correcting the situation; the limbs should return naturally as the weather conditions change.

What else can you do:

Aside from pruning, as with any severe weather condition, common sense should prevail. Avoid parking or walking under branches weighed down by snow or ice for safety reasons. If you notice broken branches entangled in power lines, notify your utility company immediately.

If you feel like you want to do something more to help your trees when you see them bowing under the pressure of their winter guests; focus on removing the ice from your driveway and walkways instead. That way, you can more safely to navigate your property and inspect your trees and admire the winter wonderland!

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.