A winter scene has been setting up all night as we slept, and as I write these words, the snow has covered all. I will save the poetry and soupy language for another time lest I send you all to sleep again, and instead concentrate on what you might want to do for your plants when the white stuff comes over the next few months.
Snow is good.
First, think of snow as an insulating blanket. The presence of snow can actually increase hardiness for plants whose roots are susceptible to very low lows, and its absence in areas that consistently have snow cover can kill those that survive in colder zones than ours.
Deep snow also protects plants from winter warm ups that are followed by a slap-down. This is one of the reasons why we are so vulnerable here in the Mid-Atlantic – a region where a friend texts me excitedly if we are forecasted to receive over three inches. Our snow cover is not consistent, nor is it rarely deep.
So, snow is good – but it can also be destructive to the structure of our shrubs and trees, as the heavy load bends and breaks susceptible lateral branches and sometimes the trunks themselves.
Snow can be bad…
Three or four years ago during one of our heavier snowfalls, I found my precious Edgeworthia chrysantha bent flat to the ground just outside my front door. Edgeworthia has the flexible limbs of a gymnast, but if a Sumo wrestler was to sit on that gymnast for any length of time, it is unlikely the gymnast would walk again, much less turn a cartwheel.
I used a broom and shovel to remove snow until I could see the cinnamon-brown stems, then took my pointed 4-inch trowel to excavate the limbs one at a time from their white cocoon. A few minutes in (we had received nearly two feet of snow), I found one of the main stems broken in half and hanging by a few millimeters of cambium and bark.
Here’s where the timeliness of the thing comes in — the reason you might want to get out of that yummy chair and check on your plants. I splinted the stem back together with a bit of cloth, a short length of stick and some flexible marking tape.
Temps were cold and the wound had been encased in snow. Had I waited it would have been too late.
The snow melted, spring burst forth and the edgeworthia licked its wounds and soldiered on. By May, it was as gorgeous as it had ever been, and new laterals above the injury had already started sprouting. Carpe branchem.
A few tips if you’re trying to excavate your own landscape.
Only do the bare minimum.
Don’t you love advice like that? In this case it is warranted. Look at your shrubs and trees and decide which could benefit from a light shake and which may be able to shake it off on their own. Evergreen hedging and vertical shrubs/trees with upright lateral branches (like ‘Sky Pencil’ holly or ‘Blue Arrow’ juniper) are in greater danger than a kousa dogwood.
Use your lightest touch
Start by grasping the main trunk of the plant midway up its length and shaking gently. Make sure you’re wearing a hat. Don’t shake it if bottom branches have been covered by the weight of snow or you could separate them from the main trunk. Instead, brush the snow lightly from the branches with a snow brush.
Remember that plants are exceptionally fragile in the winter.
The colder it gets after a heavy, wet snow, the more fragile they are. If the snow has hardened, you may do far more damage than you are trying to remediate. Treat it like an ice coating at that point and just wait.
Now, I recognize that you may not want to do anything about this, that the chair is warm and deep and you have gone, once again, without purchasing yourself a decent pair of boots. However, I will just submit the following in closing: A tiny bit of work now can save you a lot of plastic surgery later.
Sort of like being thirty and using sunscreen.