It has been years since we have to wait until the middle of January in Chicago
for the first significant accumulating snow of the year (+2″), but here we are. It is often right after the first significant snowfall of the season that we hear from many concerned customers about the potential damage that snow may do to their trees and shrubs. While snow is vital to the winter survival of plants and trees it can create some problems for your plants under extreme conditions. In case you were wondering how to avoid damaging your plants this winter, read on…
- Heavy, wet snow and ice can often cause branches on deciduous plants to bend or even break because they are frozen and brittle. On evergreens such as arborvitae, junipers, yews, etc., which have a broader surface on which snow and ice can accumulate, branches can be stretched and bent, disfiguring the shape of the plant and causing damage below the surface of the bark that will not become evident until Spring.
- If you are concerned about a heavy accumulation of snow on your landscape plants, carefully brush the snow aside by hand to avoid causing damage. Avoid shaking or striking the branches with brooms or shovels as this can cause more damage than it prevents. Bear in mind, that natural snowfall or windblown snow seldom results in plant injury. It’s usually the devices we use to remove snow that cause the most damage. Snow that is plowed, blown, pushed into, or thrown over plants is denser than natural snowfall and tends to stick together, so as it settles, it can rip branches or snap buds from limbs.
- Snow serves as a great natural insulator because snowflakes have small intricate spaces within their structure which are filled with air. These spaces trap air in between the flakes as they pile up. These tiny pockets of air prevent circulation, thus preventing heat from being transferred by convection. As a result, the daily temperature penetration into the snow is minimal and plants are protected from frost and freezing conditions.
- Snow on the ground acts as an insulating blanket of mulch that prevents injury to roots, which generally can’t withstand extreme cold. The roots of most landscape plants can be damaged when soil temperatures fall below ten degrees F. Some perennials, whose roots are far more sensitive than woody plants, can be harmed when soil temperatures dip just below freezing. The snow cover will moderate temperatures, and once the snow melts, the moisture is beneficial to the plants.
Of course, the best solution is not to cover plants with excessive snow at all. Avoid plowing, blowing, or shoveling over the top of your plants. Mark your beds in Fall with posts or reflectors
if necessary to make them more visible under extreme snow conditions.
Avoid piling “salty” snow near plants or on lawns. If you choose to use ice melt products such as rock salt on your walks and drives, keep in mind that this, mixed with the snow and slush that is piled around plants, can leach into the soil and harm roots. Plants will absorb these contaminants in the Spring which may cause die back and even death. If you must “salt”, use one of the more environmentally safe products such as calcium
or magnesium chloride or an ordinary, inexpensive garden fertilizer, sand, or kitty litter mixed with equal parts of “safe” salt.
Consider these plant care tips now before the snow really starts to fly as it is easy to forget them in the throes of one of Chicago’s blizzards or ice storms. By taking extra care now when removing snow or melting ice you can keep your trees and shrubs safe from snow injury and you will find them to be more hearty and healthy come Spring.