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Can you protect your trees during an ice storm?

DEL CITY, Okla. -- How do you know an ice storm is coming at Tony's Tree Plantation?

Nursery manager Jeff Woodul has a little more time on his hands.

"This is what we do on bad days," he said, trimming a small specimen in a pot. "Come out and clean plants. Get everything ready for the spring."

Woodul isn't worried much about an ice storm's effects on his nursery.

For one, he has larger, more vulnerable trees at home. And for another, there's just not much he can do.

"Pray it doesn't happen," he told NewsChannel 4 with a laugh Friday afternoon. "It's hard to have a nursery in Oklahoma. You never know what the weather is going to cause it to do. That's the hazards of living here."

And unless homeowners have been carefully calculating and planning what they plant in their yards, they are likely to experience the hazards too.

"You just kind of have to let Mother Nature take its course in situations like this," said Ray Ridlen, who teaches horticulture and agriculture in the Oklahoma State University extension office.

There are little things you can do to avoid damage, which can occur when a quarter-inch of ice accumulates. Watering before freezing can insulate some plants. Small plants and shrubs can be covered.

Home gardeners can select trees with sturdier crotches and look for hardwood trees like oaks, maples and elms, which hold up far better in storms than softer trees like Bradford pears or silver maples.

But even the strongest trees can suffer in a severe ice storm.

"For homeowners, the best thing they can do is probably about every five years have their large trees trimmed so they take a lot of that extra weight off the trees," said Woodul. "It's better just to let the ice accumulate and thaw out on its own. When you go out there knocking it off, of course the limbs are frozen as well, you cause more damage, breaking limbs."

Experts warn homeowners to be wary of inexperienced cleanup crews.

Look for an ISA certified arborist, Ridlen said, someone who won't further damage trees. Cleanup doesn't have to take place immediately after the storm.

"Don't get in a hurry," he said. "Don't hire the first person down the road."