When it snows, gardeners may rejoice that a blanket of the cold stuff serves as welcome insulation during frosty weather, protecting plants from wind damage and moderating soil temperature. Of course, snow—and ice—are sometimes more destructive than helpful. Plan how to take advantage of snow’s benefits and minimize potential damage.
Things to do before a storm
If forecasters predict several inches of snow, preventing harm to your landscaping is easier than dealing with the aftermath.
- Mark where your yard ends and the street begins. Putting up snow stakes may prevent snowplow damage to your street-side plantings. You can purchase commercial stakes or make your own from rebar or pressure-treated 1-inch by 1-inch wooden stakes painted orange. For our area, stakes 3 feet tall are tall enough—bury them 8- to 12-inches deep.
- You may want to mark the location of garden paths or sidewalks to facilitate clearing them after the storm and to avoid inadvertently treading on your plantings.
- If you have particularly vulnerable shrubs or trees, tying up branches or constructing shelters may help prevent breakage. Better yet, consider resistance to snow and ice damage when selecting trees and shrubs for your landscape (see list of more and less resistant tree species, below).
- Think twice about using deicers before or after a storm—particularly salt-based ones—to avoid poisoning plants (see additional information about the benefits and risks of specific ice melters, below).
Minimizing damage after a storm
Your landscape may come through a storm unscathed but if not, take care to avoid causing even more damage to your plants or yourself!
- Be careful about trying to remove snow or ice from trees and shrubs.
- Often it is best to leave snow or ice to melt on its own.
- Never stand under a snow or ice laden tree—branches may break unexpectedly!
- Shaking a tree to remove snow can do more harm than good.
- Don’t try to remove snow using downward brushing. Rather, try reaching underneath branches from a distance with a broom or pole to dislodge snow.
- Avoid shoveling snow onto your plantings. In addition to the weight of the snow, you may be adding soil, grit, and/or gravel to your beds.
- Consult an arborist about whether you can save severely damaged trees: https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/arboristsearch
- Use proper pruning techniques to remove damaged branches on trees and shrubs; see first link below for more resources about pruning and other management issues.
Take time to dream!
Be sure to survey your landscape during and after a storm, not only to prevent or repair winter damage, but to evaluate where you might add winter interest in future years, and what new projects you’ll undertake this spring, summer, and fall. Happy year-round gardening!
Article by Debbie Green, Extension Master GardenerSMVolunteer
For more information:
Preventing and Managing Ice and Snow Damage to Landscape Plants:
Information on ice melters: https://granville.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/01/ice-melters-and-their-effects-on-plants-2/
Ratings of trees’ ice storm resistance (p. 12)