GREEN SPACE: Protecting Your Garden After a Snowfall

Everyone loves snow! There is nothing to brighten up the brown bareness of a winter landscape than the pristine white of a heavy snowfall.

Published February 9, 2015 8:27 PM
3 min read


GREEN-THEveryone loves snow! There is nothing to brighten up the brown bareness of a winter landscape than the pristine white of a heavy snowfall. To deepen our understanding of snow, having access to snowfall statistics becomes essential.

Everyone loves snow! There is nothing to brighten up the brown bareness of a winter landscape than the pristine white of a heavy snowfall. However, with the snow come hazards to our trees, shrubs, and lawns. Now, there are all sorts of steps we can take to protect our plants before the onset of winter – remove the parts of a plant most susceptible to breakage in the winter weather, wrap smaller evergreens in canvas, mulch and water liberally – but there are also important things that we can do (or refrain from doing) once the weather is here, no matter our level of preparedness.

The number one thing that you can do for your trees after a storm is to refrain from shaking trees limbs or using your shovel to knock snow off them. It may be hard to resist, but if you do it’s likely to break or, at least damage, the limbs. Also, even if the snow is still light enough to fall easily from the branches, you potentially risk damaging the tree’s circulatory system because a plant’s flexibility can cause the branches to snap back when the weight of the accumulation is knocked off in unison.

The only safe way to remove snow from trees (assuming you have the time and volition) is using a broom to gently brush snow from branches as soon as possible after a snowfall. If the snow will not easily brush off, your best bet is to let the snow and ice melt naturally. If you have any branches that are already broken that do not present an immediate hazard, wait until the end of winter to to have them removed by a tree trimming company.

The other principal concern in the winter garden is salt damage. Obviously, it’s impossible to know what damage has been done until spring arrives, but it is still worth thinking about. As the snow melts and the ground thaws, dissolved salts can both injure plants directly and change the structure of the soil, causing it to become more compacted.  Compacted soil restricts absorption of water, oxygen, and nutrients, making it impossible for plants to thrive. There’s not much that we can do about road runoff, but we can all control what we use to make our icy sidewalks and driveways safer.

Throwing any old chemical listed as a deicer cannot only endanger your garden, but will likely end up polluting local bodies of water. So, before you toss a handful of rock salt on a slick surface, consider the alternatives. The best one in our book is to shovel a lot and then add a layer of sand or sawdust. Both sand and sawdust improve traction without exacting the environmental cost of salt. If you must use a deicer, read the ingredient list and make sure the product you’re using does not contain sodium chloride, the worst of all salts. There are deicer alternatives – some even using vegetables as their primary ingredient – that are not only safer for the environment, but also work better than salt at lower temperatures.

— The Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

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