Snow damage update

Broken, bent, and battered, the garden in early March was a depressing shambles. There seemed no end to the damage, shrubs crushed under the weight of the heavy snow, and large evergreens with branches broken or bent to severe angles, or completely uprooted. Many deciduous trees were spared the worst, but densely branched Japanese maples lost major branches.

In late May much of the injury has healed, but lingering evidence remains, and some of the most severely damaged plants have been removed. In my garden two of three southern magnolias suffered many broken branches, and those that weren’t broken were bent awkwardly. Today the trees remain a sad sight, it will be several years before they regain their fullness. The broken limbs have been removed, but it is fortunate that the magnolias are at the back edge of the garden so that they can be afforded time to recover. If they were positioned more prominently I would have no choice but to remove them.

A major branch of a large Leyland cypress was bent so that it hovered just above the stone patio next to the swimming pond. The limb was removed, but as I feared the tree’s shape was ruined, so it had to be cut down. Now the stump remains (which I’ll get around to removing eventually), and the gaping hole along the property line border has been replanted with a Venus dogwood and a variety of perennials that will fill the space until the new tree is up to size. I was not fond of the cypress from the start, and I’m certain that I will enjoy the dogwood far more. There was considerable labor in its removal, but the loss of this huge evergreen has opened the area to more sunlight and the neighboring plants look better than they have in years.

I have seen a number of Leylands and other large evergreens around the neighborhood that have suffered many bent branches, or are leaning, and I believe that the homeowners decided in March to give them some time to see what would happen. I’m afraid that this is it, they will not improve further without constructive pruning, and some are damaged too badly to be saved.

A large weeping green leafed Japanese maple cascades over the smallest and oldest of my garden’s ponds, and as the pond was cleaned in late March it was evident that a large branch had been broken. The break was remarkably clean, and by good fortune this is the branch that my wife has continually hacked at for years to keep it from overtaking the pond, so she was delighted that it was gone so easily.

I have seen weeping maples with similar injuries, but to branches that adversely affected the tree’s appearance, and they have begun to fill the gap with new growth. Where a single large branch was broken three or four have appeared, so that the void will be filled in another year. I should caution that these new branches should be thinned to one or two next year so that the branches that grow will be stronger and less prone to breaking again.

Several large arborvitae and junipers, and some smaller evergreens with multiple trunks that were splayed in every direction were tied with a nylon strap called ArborTie to pull the branches together. The plants suffered no ill effects otherwise, and all look fine today, but I will err on the side of caution and not remove the strap for another month or longer. By mid summer I’ll remove the strap from one, and if it retains its shape I’ll remove the others. By using this strap, rather than twine or rope, there is less danger in girdling branches, so there’s no need to hurry.

When the snow melted most branches of boxwoods and nandinas that were bent to the ground sprung back, but not fully into their original shape. Since then the branches might have moved a little, but it’s safe to assume they won’t move further. Boxwoods in my garden are a little more open than they were, but their shape is not much different and the more open form allows light and air to enter the interior of the plant, and is healthy for it. Another year of growth will fill any open areas, though the boxwoods will be somewhat wider than they were.

I have tall nandinas, short ones, and in betweens, and all were bent lower than knee high under the snow for weeks. The tall nandinas (Nandina domestica) rebounded seventy five percent as soon as the snow melted, and have lifted slightly since, but there are long branches that arch over paths that will need to be pruned. I don’t mind having to lean a bit, but my wife is “particular” about such things, so I have little doubt that I’ll come home from work one day and the branches will be in the compost pile. Otherwise, the nandinas have never been so lush.

And most of the garden is growing so vigorously that the winter damage could be easily forgotten except for the ragged looking magnolias and the big gap where the cypress was. Early warm temperatures spurred abundant growth, and excellent ground moisture from the snow and timely rains have kept the garden at its peak for weeks. With the exception of an unfortunate Forest Pansy redbud planted on a berm at the back border of the property, near the dirt bottom pond that drains excess water from the lower garden. For weeks after the snow melted this area was impassable on foot, though there was daily evidence that deer had no such trouble.

The ground was saturated far longer than I’ve seen in the past, and I fear that the roots of the redbud disliked the constant wetness. Still, I shouldn’t complain, for most of the tree looks fine, only the top has died and the dead wood will need to be pruned out. Next year I’ll have forgotten it ever happened, which is much the same that can said for most of the snow damage in the garden.


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