Snow and Ice Damage on Plants

Snow and Ice Damage on Plants

After a heavy snow or blizzard you might see sprawling plants everywhere you look. Arborvitaes and upright yews splayed open or even plastered to the ground. Rhododendrons and rose bushes are flattened, and evergreen trees that once were upright have taken on a the shape of a weeping plant. What should a homeowner do?

If the snow is soft and can be easily shaken or brushed away, by all means do so. The plants may not become upright or regain their former shape immediately, but removing the weight of the snow will speed this process.

After some storms such as the recent nor’easter Nemo, however, the early precipitation was so wet that this froze into ice. Many plants are not only weighted down but actually frozen to the ground. In this case don’t tug on the plants or attempt to pull them up; you’re more likely to cause breakage and further damage this way.

Wait until the temperatures warm and the ice that holds plants in place has melted before shaking any remaining snow off the plants. Limbs and branches that are obviously broken or split should be removed with a clean cut by your pruners, lopers, or saw. You should not paint the cuts with any tar or other sealer.

Small branches that seem to be fine now might have small cracks that aren’t noticeable at this time. In the spring and early summer if random branches start to die back, it’s probably due to storm damage. Remove these twigs and stems as they brown or wilt.

Split tree trunks should be bolted back together immediately. If you don’t have thin bolts, nuts, and washers on hand wrap the trunks together temporarily with soft cloth strips and drill holes for bolts as soon as you can. Don’t use tape to hold the trunks together as this can pull away the bark when you remove it. Never leave branches or trunks tied with cord, rope or cloth for more than a couple months: people tend to forget about these bindings and over time they can strangle a plant.

Plants such as arborvitaes and upright yews that have been splayed out by snow and ice can be pulled upright after the ice and snow melts. Hold the stems in place for a month or two with a loose circle of stretchy plant ties or other soft material. Never tie these supports around the stems themselves: just circle trunks and knot the tie to itself. This way if you forget to remove the support for a few months it won’t do any harm.

The sprawling evergreen on the left is an upright yew, normally straight and narrow! Many people are noticing that their yews, arborvitaes and Leyland cypress are bending and frozen to the ground.
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