Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Shrubbery Flubbery -- Will Heavy Snow Harm Shrubs, Bushes and other Plants?


Wintry wonderings. Will the heavy snow harm shrubs and bushes? Should I remove or brush snow from the hedge?  Will snow or ice damage shrubs?  Evergreens and icy snow have a complicated relationship.  Nature can be harmful at times. 

The tall arbor vitae outside the kitchen window have taken an interesting "twist."  The unending snow this winter has bowed them over under the collective weight of pesky flakes.  During morning coffee in the warm kitchen, a debate ensued over the urgency of wading out in order to rescue the arching branches.  Coffee and warmth won out--for now, as the weather predicted is somewhat mild (by recent standards) and devoid of rain. 

Under best circumstances, the branches are loosely tied together in the late fall, which normally helps to avoid debate, and potential damage.  Last fall, life got in the way, so nature is currently getting the better of our greenery.


Hemlocks, pines and spruces can do very well without assistance.  The weight of snow only enhances the natural slope of the branches and the first semi-warm day typically frees laden branches upwards.


Trickier are the boxwoods, junipers, arbs and greenery which trap the snow along flat or wide surfaces.

A general rule of thumb is to allow a few inches of snow to remain.  The flakes help to protect the plant from burn caused by icy winds and winter dehydration.  Heavier loads are generally not harmful, unless icy rains are forecast.  That's when it gets dicey, and, if time allows, some of the snow should be removed.  Snow acts as a sponge, soaking up the rain, and possibly refreezing.  The saturated weight can cause heavy limb damage.

So too can the removal of snow.  Be careful to support upwards any branch which is the subject of brushing and shaking.  No fancy tools, a straw broom will do. Frozen branches can easily crack or splinter, which is irreversible.  At times well intentioned, but vigorous shrubbery shaking can result in injury.  If in doubt, leave it be.  The likelihood of harm from well meaning humans is greater than that of more experienced Mother Nature.   

And remember to wear a scarf.  Loose collars collect pine needles, which can get pretty uncomfortable.

Finally, keep salt and other de-icers away from the beds holding your greenery.  Shoveling a chemically treated walkway onto a hedge area transfers harmful elements into the soil which seep in after the spring thaw.   Sodium's no better for plants than it is for homosapiens. 

With care, however, those lovely boxwoods planted along the entryway will be lush full and green in a few months. 

While we wait, that coffee smells extraordinary!