For most intents and purposes, the ongoing horror of Texas Icepocalypse 2013 ended this afternoon. Temperatures are well above freezing, meaning that only those spots shaded from the sun still have any appreciable accumulations of sleet and snow, and all of it should be gone by the end of the day Thursday. One more day of subfreezing temperatures at night, and then we go back to the usual Texas December ritual of donning jackets in the morning and stripping them off by midday. At least, that’s what the National Weather Service keeps telling everyone, so I’m waiting for the rains of blood, fire, and maggots on Saturday. What else could keep me from spending a productive day cleaning up the ice storm’s messes?
Oh, and it’s a mess. As explained before, most native trees, and most of the introduced varieties recommended and sold by garden centers and nurseries, aren’t much for sustained heavy frozen precipitation. The general good news is that most of these are selected for their ability to withstand our ceaseless summer winds, so many just dip and point like ballerinas when rimed over. Small bushes take a lot more of a beating if they can’t shed their leaves fast enough. Most people in the area, myself included, don’t necessarily go nuts over pruning back their roses, as they usually don’t have to deal with sustained weight on their stems. That hubris flattened this tea rose, and the only reason my other prominent rose survived is because the crape myrtle growing over it sheltered it from the absolute worst of the storm. Both will come back, but it taught me a valuable lesson in why tying up one’s roses actually makes sense. And here I thought everything I heard about growing roses in Dallas from long-timers was unnecessary work.
Most of the softer-wood hardwoods came out well, although it was scary for a while. Crape myrtles, for instance, flex quite a bit under rain and wind, but they literally rebound right away from those. In fact, they tend to be so flexible that pruning them back can be a chore. (Several years back, I met a gentleman who makes walking sticks made from large crape myrtle branches, and he said his only issue was with how the branches tended to split while drying. He told me “put fresh Elmer’s glue on the cut end, as soon as you cut it, and let it dry. It’ll prevent the wood from splitting as it dries, and it’ll also retain its flexibility.”) Four days of heavy ice holding the branch tips to the ground didn’t seem to affect this one at all, and it bounced back as soon as things started to thaw.
Not all selections for Texas landscaping have quite that versatility. I’m already extremely glad that the two silverleaf maples in my back yard came down last year, because if they survived the summer, they definitely wouldn’t have survived this. Others in the area weren’t as lucky, and I suspect that a lot of silverleafs planted in the area back in the 1970s are now only good as firewood. I also saw a lot of damage to the current flora du jour, the ornamental Bradford pear tree. I don’t understand the appeal of the ornamental pears, although I understand why so many homeowners want a tree that doesn’t drop tremendous amounts of pulpy fruit all over the place. They require regular spraying to fight fire blight, they do nothing for bird habitat or general shade, and the brittle wood already shakes itself to pieces in a good storm. With this mess, well, I saw a couple that looked as if someone put a bomb in the center and set it off.
That problem also applied to many of our indigenous oaks and other trees. North Texas trees both tend to hang onto their leaves all winter and produce a thick cuticle on the leaves to protect against dessication. That’s great for trees able to take advantage of winter sun, and they’re usually shed in early spring as new growth starts up. That protective cuticle makes a great adhesion surface for ice, though, and it builds up fast. This tree literally tore itself apart from the stresses: rain and wind it was prepared for, but this much ice? Nope: it’s coming down, one way or another.