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 break
Brush UP to remove snow
A complete winter tip collection including: Protection by design, wind screens/anti-dessicants, plowing & shoveling, tree damage, shrub damage, salt/de-icer damage
How to Assess winter's toll in spring
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 significant.
It's a good idea to remove such heavy snow, or prop icy branches to relieve some of the strain.
Some plants are more vulnerable under a heavy load of snow or ice.
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 thinning.
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).
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.
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 break.
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.
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 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 21*
Perennials good replacements for snow-mashed shrubs. Growing Concerns 561*
Anti-desiccants like Wilt-pruf can be helpful even late in winter. Growing Concerns 556
No snow, oh no! Weeds germinate! Growing Concerns 653*
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 560*
Protect a new evergreen. Windscreens and good use of burlap. What's Coming Up 122*
Protection or burlap burlesque? Growing Concerns 702*
Protecting rhododendrons in winter. What's Coming Up 120*
Snow is better than rain in winter. Growing Concerns 613*
Winter burn worse after a dry fall? Growing Concerns 513
Note snow bank locations, aerate in spring! Growing Concerns 393*
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 Concerns 450*
Stack snow carefully, don't pile on shrubs. Growing Concerns 597, Growing Concerns 763
Stack snow carefully. Beautyberry crushed. What's Coming Up 128
Stacked snow can help dry beds. Growing Concerns 707*
Staying healthy while shoveling snow. Growing Concerns 646*
Summertime snow plow hazard: Stones thrown in plowing. What's Coming Up 141
Throw snow under evergreens? You bet. Growing Concerns 337*
Holiday lights may increase snow load. Light the Night
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 Concerns 556
Included bark in tree crotch adds to winter woes. What's Coming Up 85*
Repairing a snow-split Japanese maple. Growing Concerns 391* What's Coming Up 82*
Spruce bent and broken by winter. Growing Concerns 703*
Why snow melts around the base of trees. Growing Concerns 451*
'Blue Star' juniper fails the test under heaped snow. Growing Concerns 597
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 Concerns 647*
Massive icicles drop on shrubs. Growing Concerns 392*
Protecting arborvitae from snow breaks. Growing Concerns 477*
Repair or replace snow crushed azaleas. Growing Concerns 560
Rhododendron topples under snow. Growing Concerns 696*
Pruning evergreens after winter-burn. Growing Concerns 561
Sheared shrubs mean greater snow load. Fun with snow people. Growing Concerns 649*
Smashed shrubs are no laughing matter. Growing Concerns 559
Snow on ornamental grasses. Snow as mulch. Fun with snow people. Growing Concerns 650*