Should I clear the snow off my bushes? In some places it's
getting pretty deep. - P.F. -
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Less likely to
Brush UP to remove
A complete winter tip
collection including: Protection by
design, wind screens/anti-dessicants,
plowing & shoveling, tree damage, shrub damage,
How to Assess winter's toll in
This article may also be downloaded
as a pdf:
What's Coming Up issue 195
Yes, if the branches are sagging more than a little. The Hicks'
yews pictured above (Taxus x media 'Hicksii') stand 12'
tall but are bent to just above a 4' chain link fence. That's
It's a good idea to remove such heavy snow, or prop icy branches
to relieve some of the strain.strain.
Some plants are more vulnerable under a heavy load of snow or
Most likely to break are species with brittle wood --
horsechestnuts, older rhododendrons and singleseed junipers like
'Blue Star' come first to mind.
Also high risk are those with branches attached to the trunk or
each other in a tight V. Such crotches often develop included bark, a condition that results
in increasing detachment as the bark grows within the
crotch and exerts outward pressure against the limb. Callery pears,
especially the older 'Bradford' variety, are poster children for
included bark and calamitous splits in winter.
Frequently sheared shrubs also tend to have problems under snow.
They become so twiggy at the top that snow can't sift through.
Instead, it piles up. In addition, the internal branches are too
weak to bear weight because they've been sheared without any
Branches that can descend onto each other, with the lowest
then resting on the ground (above, left, the yew at the far left)
and near-horizontal branches with wide angles of attachment
(dogwood tree, above, right) are most able to bear lots of weight.
They will not usually break and can rebound even after a few weeks
bent out of position. However, breaks are much more likely when the
vertical trunks bend (above, left, center arborvitae and below, the
pyramidal yew Janet's brushing up to relieve of its snow).
Tough customers less likely to
Plants least likely to break are those with widely spaced limbs
attached to the trunk or each other in wide angles. Branches that
are attached to the trunk at right angles are so strongly attached
that they rarely break.
Probably the most snow-tolerant plants are those with layered
horizontal branches. Each branch can sag onto the one below, and
the lowest descends to the ground. Spruces and pines are the
premier exhibitors of this cascade defense.
Brush UP to remove snow
If you go out to relieve plants of snow, don't knock down --
brush up. Insert a broom or a rake under the snowy branch. Then
draw it out and up so that you're supporting some of the weight as
the snow is jostled and falls to the sides. If you beat the plant
from above with a broom -- we see this done all the time! -- you
actually increasing the chance of broken limbs because the impact
from above adds more weight, suddenly. That's a recipe for a
If a branch ices up so you can't knock it off, prop it. Forked
branches, upended rakes, crates, plastic patio chairs, ladders and
lots of others things have been props in our garden.
Other tips and topics
of winter damage
We've written a good deal about winter
damage to trees and shrubs, from split
Japanese maples through the weight of
ice to good and bad uses of burlap. Here
are those topics, with links to the articles or the What's
Coming Up issue that contains the article.
Design to prevent or
alleviate winter damage:
Design and re-design to have room for snow removal and snow
banks. Growing Concerns
553 and Growing Concerns 439*
Ice can be nice: Pretty snow scenes. What's Coming Up
Perennials good replacements for snow-mashed shrubs. Growing
Wind screens, anti-dessicants and more
Anti-desiccants like Wilt-pruf can be helpful even late in
No snow, oh no! Weeds germinate! Growing Concerns
Preventing winter damage: Curbs against salt, rodent repelling.
What's Coming Up 11*
Preventing winter damage: Props, spiral tied shrubs. What's
Coming Up 10
Preventing winter damage: Room for snow, replacement shrubs.
What's Coming Up 13*
Propping up ice loaded branches, Growing Concerns
Protect a new evergreen.
Windscreens and good use of burlap. What's Coming Up
Protection or burlap burlesque? Growing Concerns
Protecting rhododendrons in winter. What's Coming Up
Snow is better than rain in winter. Growing Concerns
Winter burn worse after a dry fall?
Growing Concerns 513
Thinking as you shovel and
Note snow bank locations, aerate in spring! Growing
Reading the snow to realize the benefits of mulch insulation.
Growing Concerns 744*
Room to stack snow. What's Coming Up 117*
Snow as mulch. Bulbs okay even if leaves are up.
What's Coming Up 130
Snow on warm lawn can mean snow mold trouble. Growing
Stack snow carefully, don't pile on shrubs. Growing
Concerns 597, Growing
Stack snow carefully. Beautyberry crushed.
What's Coming Up 128
Stacked snow can help dry beds. Growing Concerns
Staying healthy while shoveling snow. Growing Concerns
Summertime snow plow hazard: Stones thrown in plowing.
What's Coming Up 141
Throw snow under evergreens? You bet. Growing Concerns
Trees: Winter damage
Holiday lights may increase snow load. Light the
What does ice weigh, how
much ice can a tree bear? What's
Coming Up 26, pg. 7
How ivy and snow team up to damage trees. Growing
Included bark in
tree crotch adds to winter woes. What's Coming Up
Repairing a snow-split
Japanese maple. Growing Concerns 391* What's Coming Up
Spruce bent and broken by winter. Growing Concerns
Why snow melts around the base of trees. Growing Concerns
Shrubs: Winter damage
'Blue Star' juniper fails the test under heaped snow. Growing
Brush up, not down on snowy shrubs. Growing Concerns 338*
What's Coming Up 82* Growing Concerns 647*
Grasses can revive after snow flattening. Growing
Massive icicles drop on shrubs. Growing Concerns
Protecting arborvitae from snow breaks. Growing Concerns
Repair or replace snow crushed azaleas. Growing
Rhododendron topples under snow. Growing Concerns
Pruning evergreens after winter-burn. Growing
Sheared shrubs mean greater snow load. Fun with snow people.
Growing Concerns 649*
Smashed shrubs are no laughing matter. Growing
Snow on ornamental grasses. Snow as mulch. Fun with snow people.
Growing Concerns 650*
Safer de-icers. Growing Concerns 742*
Salt in beds a big problem. Growing Concerns 706*
Salt protection for street trees. Street tree salt