December 7, 2022

A GROWING CONCERN: How to repair damaged landscaping after snowy weather

Well now, howling winds, heavy wet snow, cold temperatures and a red wave that hasn’t arrived, so our shells are safe to harvest.

But seriously, what if anything do you do when the weather has damaged your landscaping plants? A lot, in fact. So let’s take this time to talk about weather damage to your plants and what to do or what not to do about that damage.

First of all, you have to realize that mother nature is the worst pruner on the planet. Worse than deer, worse than those horrible whirling blades at the end of a roadside excavator, even worse than the tree pruning you see in parking lots.

I’ve always wished mother nature would take one of my tree pruning classes because she really needs it. What makes it such a disgusting pruner is the way wind and snow chop down your plants. In either case, it is a violent process of chipping, cracking and spattering with no regard for the well-being of the plant. In fact, in many cases, the damage done can eventually kill the injured plant.

The first thing to do is to cut and remove any debris that has fallen or burst. It’s laborious but it’s the easiest part of the job. Now that the debris and cracked and hanging limbs are removed, the process of finding “true” damage begins. Because this damage was violent in nature, it tends to extend further into the plant than it first appears. Let me say it again: there’s probably more damage than you first see.

When branches and limbs crack under the pressure of wind or the weight of snow, they are cracked and splintered further than the breaking point on the plant itself. So even if you cut that jagged break, those cracks extend farther down the stem or branch than they may appear.

It is absolutely essential that you examine the parts of the plant below that break very carefully to ensure that you make a final cut under any visible cracks or damage. Like gangrene, if left uncut, this internal dam will slowly continue to descend through the plant or branch and, given enough time, can kill the entire plant or at least the remaining stem or branch.

The next critical step is to always cut just above a knot. A node is the part of a plant where leaves or stems emerge, often forming a slight swelling, bud or some sort of visual mark. If you don’t cut near and just above a node, it’s the same as Mother Nature’s serrated cut, and again, plant gangrene can set in.

It is also essential on large branches to first make a deep “undercut” above this node, then from the top cut and join the undercut. If cut just from top to bottom, almost always the plant part will strip a tail of bark a few centimeters or even several feet long. This has the same harmful effect as the violent rupture created by time. So also look for stripped bark during your final weather repair pruning, and cut under any cracks and stripped bark.

As for snow on your plants, while it is snowing, if it is not freezing on the plant, get out and gently brush off the snow as it accumulates, but never if it is frozen . Also, if it’s really cold outside, mid-teens or colder (really almost never here), don’t brush the snow because the frozen stems would be very brittle. If a lot of snow is covering the plant, work from the bottom up so you don’t add all that weighted snow that builds up on the lower branches and breaks them off. This is often a two-person job.

Finally, if the weight of the snow has bent the branches and they remain bent after the snow disappears, prick them for two or three months, as they will rarely return to their original shape.

Get out there this weekend, find that invisible mess, trim it properly, and remove the debris. And without a doubt, stay warm and be well.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA”. Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, PO Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject: Andrew May).