In most cases, snow is nothing to fear in the garden — it’s a great insulator, and it melts to provide much-needed water to dry plants in the winter.
However, heavy snow and ice buildup can cause devastating damage in the garden if limbs and trunks bend or break.
Here’s what you need to know about dealing with snow and ice in the yard and garden.
Should You Remove Snow and Ice?
- Natural Snow Cover: Even if it’s deep, a blanket or windblown drift of snow is nothing to worry about – in fact, it acts as an extra layer of insulating mulch!
- Manmade Snow Cover: Most snow damage is caused by humans using snowplows, shovels, and snowblowers. Pushed or mechanically blown snow is dense and slow to melt, and it can break a strong shrub right in two. Be careful not to pile snow on your plants by mechanical means as it will then need to be removed and might do damage you can’t prevent.
- Bent Branches: Tender branches (particularly conifers) may become broken or weighed down with heavy snow and can a hard time springing back into shape. The fallen snow can also melt and refreeze to form devastating ice.
- Snow from Roofs: Use a snow rake to remove snow from roofs (if you can safely), and remove the piles of snow that may cascade down onto your shrubs from the roof above. If your shrubs are right in the danger zone under a steep roof, you may want to protect them with a temporary wooden frame.
How to Remove Snow from Shrubs and Plants
- Sweep Gently: Using a broom or your hands, GENTLY sweep in an upward motion, loosening the snow and allowing it to fall. Don’t sweep downward, as you might break an already bent branch, and don’t shake the plant. The branches will be very brittle and already stressed, so disturb them as little as possible.
- Use a snow blower: A great way to remove light snow from plants is with a snow blower. It’s a powerful tool that can easily remove snow from your plants without damaging them. It’s also a great way to quickly clear snow from larger areas.
- Avoid Accumulation: You’ll have much less damage to your plants if you remove snow after every couple of inches of accumulation, rather than waiting until it’s deep.
- Leave Ice Alone: Don’t try to remove ice, as the branch will likely break. Once ice has formed, you really should just wait it out.
- Be Safe: Never try to remove snow or ice from overhead branches! There’s a high risk of breakage, and you don’t want heavy limbs falling on you, your house, or your car!
Gardening Tip: Some ambitious gardeners attach a water hose to a warm water faucet to melt ice on prized plants. If you do this, use lukewarm water, as sudden temperature changes can shock tender branches. Also be aware that the water may refreeze on the ground, creating very slick conditions. Unless you have a collection of priceless hybrids, this method really isn’t worth the trouble. If you live in an ice-prone area, you’re better off choosing plants that can recover from breakage.
How to Prevent Damage to Plants
- Tie Up Plants: Before the snow, use plant netting to tie up the branches of your conifers and soft shrubs, to prevent them from being misshapen or broken by snow. Tie them in a cone shape, to deflect snow off to the sides.
- Move Containers: Put planters and containers under a shed or porch during snow and ice storms to keep freezing water from expanding and breaking containers.
- Keep Off Grass: Snow-covered grass is fragile, easily uprooted, and susceptible to fungal diseases under the snow. Reducing foot traffic will help the snow stay light and melt faster, and it will keep your grass blades firmly rooted.
- Avoid Salt: Salt can damage lawns and plants when it runs off your driveway. If your plants have been exposed to salt, water and rinse them well as soon as temperatures are above freezing. Next time, use sand or clay-based kitty litter instead of salt.
- Prune Damaged Limbs: Head outdoors as soon as the ice melts to assess damage. Cracked branches can sometimes heal if they’re firmly tied back in place. Broken branches should be pruned away immediately to prevent injury and disease. Ragged tears are very susceptible to infection, so remove damaged wood using clean cuts.
- Wait for Spring: The extent of the damage often won’t be clear until spring, when you find out if your plant will be able to spring back into shape. Wait for spring to do any staking or reshaping of bent plants, since winter branches are extremely brittle. In the spring they’ll be much more supple.
How do we safely melt snow and ICE from the backyard? We can’t use salt. We want to clear a path from the house to the woods out back so the dog can do his business, without him knocking us off our feet if he sees a squirrel
We use our snow blower to make a path so the dog and us have a relative snow clean area to walk in the yard. He gets some exercise and so do we. Fringe benefit we can get most of the droppings cleaned up and on the flower beds for free fertilized. I slip a shim under the scraper blade and lock it in about an eighth of inch high so it doesn’t scrape the grass down to the roots. In the spring the path area may stay browner longer than the rest of the yard but by late April or early May the grass is all the same color of green.
Please clarify, in one paragraph it states that windblown snow cover on plants is ok and adds insulation. However, in another paragraph it states to avoid accumulation of snow. I have three two year old oak seedlings now covered in snow. Should I clear them off or leave the snow in place? Thank you.