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How to Care for Trees After Snowfall

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How To Care for Trees After Snowfall

January 1, 2022

When the branches of evergreen shrubs and trees bend from the weight of a big snow, it can be an alarming sight. Often, homeowners think they are helping by brushing the snow off.

However, it is not only not necessary, says Julie Janoski, Plant Clinic manager at The Morton Arboretum, you can even make matters worse. “In the cold, the branches may become brittle, and you may break them yourself,” she says. 

The branches will almost always straighten up by themselves as the snow melts. “It may take a while, but they’ll recover,” Janoski notes. “Most of these plants originated in places where they evolved to deal with snow.”

Deciduous trees and shrubs that have lost their leaves rarely bend much. Most snow drops right through their branches. But evergreens keep their needles, which trap snow. Some evergreen trees with very upward-pointing branches, such as arborvitaes, are especially prone to collect snow and may bend dramatically. 

You can minimize this if you act before a snowstorm comes, Janoski says. Gather the main stems together and tie them loosely. Leave plenty of slack so they can move in the wind. Ties made from strips of cloth or old hosiery, which are soft and flexible, are less likely to cut into the plant’s bark than twine or rope.

“The snow will still pile up on the plant, but it’s less likely to bend the stems,” Janoski says. “After the storm, just let the snow melt away.” 

For the sake of lawns and other plants, be careful when applying salt or other ice melters to the driveway or sidewalk. These chemicals can dry out plants’ leaves and roots. Avoid shoveling snow that contains ice melters onto areas with plants; when the snow melts, the salty water will soak into the soil and damage plants’ roots. 

Chemicals are no substitute for shoveling. They only break up the ice, leaving water behind that can refreeze. Instead, use them sparingly after shoveling to prevent ice from forming. Products based on calcium chloride are not as damaging to plants as regular salt (sodium chloride). You can also sprinkle sand for traction.

Learn more about winter care for trees and shrubs.

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