Snow in March – and the aftermath

Tuesday update at first light – Snow accumulation is not significant, and while this will provide insulation for low growing plants and tender growth of perennials as nights become colder over the next few days, little or no action is required to protect garden plants from the weight of the wet snow. Minimal accumulation of snow is found on tightly branched evergreens, and even long stemmed nandinas and Sky Pencil hollies require no action this morning.Cold on recent nights has already damaged flowers of magnolias and camellias (below). With temperatures possibly dropping into the mid teens in the next few days, the concern is that other flowers and emerging new growth will be injured. Recent nighttime lows have dropped to sixteen degrees in this garden, so I don’t anticipate more damage than has already been done. Daffodils and hyacinths should not have a problem, but it is likely that flowers of cherries and fruit trees will be damaged. While blankets or tarps might provide slight protection to smaller plants (possibly hydrangeas, if emerging leaves have not been damaged already), there is no practical protection for large shrubs and trees. (

Note – The following post is copied with minor revisions from March 2013 and January 2016. Both occasions followed significant snow storms of a foot or more, but many of the same principles apply to Monday night and Tuesday’s storm that is expected to drop up to a foot of wet snow.

Let’s start with, yes, many of us agreed that it was inevitable we’d get some nasty weather in March as retribution for our mild winter. Probably, Mother Nature doesn’t work that way, but in any case, here it is, and at this point it matters not that this is not too far out of the ordinary.

A critical difference with this year’s forecast is that recent weeks of warmth have spurred growth on many plants, and temperatures this week are projected to drop below twenty degrees. Snow is an excellent insulator, so it will provide welcome protection to emerging foliage of ground cover plants, as well as daylilies, hostas, and other perennials that might be damaged by this week’s freeze.

For most evergreens, from tall nandinas to lower growing boxwoods, the best practice is to gently shake loose snow so that branches are not bent. It is likely that a significant snow will not melt for several days in the cold that is forecast for this week, and branches that remain bent for more than a day or two might not return to their original position.

Multi stem evergreens such as Emerald Green arborvitae and Sky Pencil holly are most vulnerable to snow damage, so it is important to remove snow as quickly as possible. Or, prevent damage by tying twine or string around all stems to prevent them from being pulled apart.

The emphasis of this article is to exercise caution when removing snow rather than bashing and breaking branches. Even wet snow can be shaken loose with a gentle nudge from a broom or leaf rake. The less violent the action, the less damage will be done.

As always, we will be available for specific questions through this blog throughout the storm.

From March 2013 – Long before daylight this morning several inches of snow had fallen, and the worst of the storm is still to come. When I first went outside in the dark I was alerted to the problems ahead. Limbs of the wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple planted just off the corner of the garage were weighed down by snow accumulating in the dense branches to block half of the opening of the garage. As I looked across the garden the reflected light off the blanket of snow showed trouble in every direction.

Boxwoods and nandinas have been flattened by the heavy, wet snow, and crapemyrtle trunks fifteen feet tall are arched to nearly touch the ground. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before. Now, with only four or five inches of snow there are problems. What will happen with another six, or eight, or ten inches still to come?

With colder temperatures and light, fluffy snow there is usually nothing to worry about. The wind blows, and the snow slowly drifts to the ground. But, wet snows accumulate quickly in evergreens and densely branched plants. Once the branches are bent the real danger is that they will break, and in winter storms several years ago my garden suffered substantially due to too little action, too late. Also, branches of trees and shrubs that remain bent will often lose their rigidity if allowed to remain too long, so that when the snow is gone the branches do not spring back. Many times these will require severe pruning or other actions to repair the damage.

Here’s how I plan to spend my day (after finishing this brief update).

Before the heavier snow causes more damage I’ll go outside, armed with a leaf rake. The process is not complicated from here. A gentle nudge with the rake is all that’s needed to dislodge most of the accumulated snow. Greater force can cause more damage, and most often it isn’t necessary. If winds pick up later in the day that might help to clear additional snow, but if the heavy snow that weighs the branches is allowed to remain the breezes could cause greater injury.

I’ll work on deciduous trees like the Japanese maples and crapemyrtles first, since these are most easily damaged. Japanese maples, in particular, are soft wooded with branching that is readily damaged by snow. Weeping varieties of Japanese maples are most vulnerable with a thick canopy of branches that collect the heavy snow. Extra care should be used in clearing the snow from these maples to avoid injury.

Once the branches are nudged with the rake the snow falls to the ground, and the branch usually springs back, though not all the way. This is rarely a concern when the branches have been bent for only a few hours, and I’ll worry about that another day since there’s little that can be done today. It’s not necessary to remove every bit of snow from branches, though the snow that remains will catch more of the wet snow that is predicted for later in the morning. My first snow clearing trip around the garden will probably be one of several today.

After the deciduous trees I’ll work on evergreens next, and follow that with smaller evergreen shrubs like the boxwoods and nandinas that have more flexible branches and often spring back quickly. Several years ago evergreen Southern magnolias and Leyland cypresses were severely damaged in consecutive winters. A tall cypress in my garden was bent to a severe angle, which eventually required removal. The Southern magnolias have grown back remarkably, but now their form is much more wide spreading since the broken trunks resulted in more horizontal growth. I’m afraid that this will only encourage more snow to accumulate in the branches, so these will be the first evergreens to be checked.

I have a large garden, with dozens of Japanese maples and small trees scattered over an acre and a quarter, so this task will require constant vigilance today. What happens if I ignore the snow, and see what happens? I’ve done that before, and in prior years when substantial snow falls overnight the damage is already done before I wake up.

Most often I have a casual attitude about garden chores. If I don’t pull weeds, they’ll still be there tomorrow (though they might have dropped a few thousand seeds in the meanwhile). Many garden chores can be put off, but a delay in removing snow from branches can cause irreparable damage to plants. So, I’m wrapping up my writing, grabbing my leaf rake, and heading outside. Also, while I’ve been writing it’s become light enough to see that the pace of snowfall has increased. The breeze has picked up and large clumps of snow are falling out of the tall tulip poplars and maples that border the garden.

The process of removing snow from trees and shrubs should not be vigorous exercise, and certainly is nothing compared to the labor of shoveling the driveway and walk. But, take care not to over exert, and if you are working in an area with tall trees be aware that branches could come down at any time. Avoiding damage to the plants in the garden is a much lesser concern than your personal safety, so be careful.

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No snow, thankfully

Today, no snow, thankfully. A year ago, I was still digging out from thirty-two inches, with four feet drifted against the garage door, thinking I’m too old for this, but thankful that I finally broke down and bought a small snow blower. It didn’t seem possible that the small electric gadget could move this much snow, but it did, thanks in part to a much shorter driveway than others in the neighborhood. This was a prime consideration when the house was purchased twenty-eight years ago, short front (and driveway) and long backyard (for the garden).Winter Sun mahonia blooming in the snow in January

If the labor of digging out is not considered, a cover of snow is welcomed, for a few days, and in this area (northwestern Virginia) the typical snow is here for a few days, then gone. A few feet of snow is slower to melt, particularly on this property shaded by tall maples and tulip poplars so that snow lingers days and weeks longer than on neighbors’ sunnier lots.

One of several hellebores beginning to flower the third week of January.

One of several hellebores beginning to flower the third week of January.

When the snow fell a year ago, it buried hellebores (above) and snowdrops in full bloom. Only the tips of some of the smaller witch hazels stood above the drifts. I know, I struggled through waist deep snow to see for myself, though mostly to be certain that no damage was done, and to shake loose snow that might be a problem, which it wasn’t since the snow was light and powdery. So, no damage was done, but a deep cover of snow gets old in a hurry, and knowing that flowers are buried beneath the snow does no good for the gardener’s moral.Vernal witch hazel

Happily, there’s been hardly enough snow to talk about this winter, maybe an inch, and if that’s it for the winter, I won’t mind a bit. With a bit cooler temperatures (though no severe cold) through the first half of this winter, flowers have been a bit slower, but in the past week snowdrops and hellebores have come along, and the Vernal witch hazel (above) has been flowering for a few weeks now. Though my sense of smell is severely lacking, a few days ago the scent from the witch hazel was unmistakable in the rear garden. The flowers are tiny, barely noticeable from a distance, but any blooms are appreciated in January, encouraging the gardener that spring is around the corner. Not just around the corner, but at least within sight.

The garden peeking through the snow

This garden is positioned with tall maples and tulip poplars along its southwestern border, with the consequence that snow melts more slowly than on more exposed neighboring properties. While neighbors’ lawns are almost clear, only small parts of the garden are visible two weeks after the blizzard. I am encouraged, however, that thirty or more inches have melted to six or less in most areas.Vernal witch hazel in January

I could not muster the energy to struggle through waist deep drifts to view witch hazels in the week following the storm, but this afternoon as I slopped through ankle deep slush in the soggy rear garden I could smell the fragrant Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) long before I could see its flowers. Parts of the shrubby tree that flowered earliest, in late December, are beginning to fade from bloom, and I expect flowers will fade completely in another week or two.Diane witch hazel

Which, will coincide fortuitously with the hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) coming into bloom. A few scattered flowers are evident on ‘Diane’ (above), and ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ should not be far behind. ‘Arnold Promise’ is the most floriferous of the three, and the forsythia yellow blooms stand out more clearly than the ruddy red and orange of ‘Diane’ and ‘Jelena’.Hellebore

Several hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus, above and below) have been exposed by the melting snow, and as expected, flowers hardly faded in the period they were buried. Blooms that were fading before the snow look a bit more haggard today, but newly opened flowers show no distress, and several buds are just beginning to open.Hellebore

With typical, or perhaps slightly milder temperatures forecast for the coming weeks, there is good reason to expect hellebores and witch hazels to continue through their bloom cycle, which should extend into early March.Edgeworthia in January

The paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) are showing their first bit of color along the edges, and with several mild days these will progress to full bloom before the start of March. These have hardly flowered in two recent cold winters when buds were damaged, so I am greatly encouraged on this afternoon, despite chilly toes from snow and slush leaking over the top of my muck boots.

After the blizzard

I’m getting too old for this. When will it be spring?

But, it’s winter, and some amount of snow is expected, even, and perhaps particularly, in a mild winter. With less frigid temperatures there is often more moisture, and when cold collides with moist, deep snow is often the result.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing btter to do I would reemove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing better to do I would remove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

Today, the driveway has been cleared with the assistance of a recently purchased electric snowblower, a concession to nagging shoulder and back troubles. This inexpensive gadget worked marvelously, far better than I expected when I woke to two feet of snow after clearing a much smaller amount the previous evening.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow convering it.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow covering it.

The driveway is closely bordered by plants, with a Japanese maple and several evergreens protruding a foot or two over the asphalt, so I opted to purchase a lower powered blower to minimize damage as snow is thrown from the machine. The smaller snowblower required a bit more effort than the neighbors’ gas powered snowblowers, but snow was tossed gently (and quietly) to the borders of the drive, so there should be no damage. And, I’m not dead tired from shoveling.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

After lunch I’ll head back out to survey the garden. In the middle of the storm I slogged through waist deep drifts to take a quick look around, and I was encouraged to see that little snow accumulated in branches of deciduous trees. Branches of evergreens are bent by snow, but I’m not inclined to do much for taller hollies and cypresses that will spring back as soon as the sun melts the snow.

Nandinas, boxwoods, and smaller evergreens will require a bit of effort to free branches that arch down into the deep snow. It is likely that snow will not melt sufficiently to free branches for a week, and in previous winters I’ve seen that bent branches that are not freed from snow quickly are very slow to recover. Some stray branches must eventually be pruned so they do not obstruct paths.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

Snow that accumulated in the dense canopy of the weeping Japanese maple by the driveway was cleared in the midst of the storm. A gentle pat with a leaf rake resulted in most of the snow drifting to the ground. With cold temperatures, branches are brittle, so a minimum of force should be used to lessen damage. Perhaps the maples can be left alone, but I’ve seen too much damage in previous years to leave this to chance. Another large weeping maple in the rear garden will be cleaned up this afternoon, but a third that is perched at the edge of the large koi pond will be left to fend for itself. It is much too close to the pond, with treacherous access in summer, much less in thirty inches of snow.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I do not worry about mounds of snow that fall from the roof. My roof is far too high to do anything about it, so I accept that some damage is inevitable, though boxwoods have proven to be surprisingly resilient in the past. Snow that falls from a roof can be quite difficult to remove without inflicting further damage, so I’ll not bother with these until the snow melts, and if I must prune broken branches, so be it.

Apparently, I’ve become soft hearted in my old age. Birds (and squirrels) devoured seed put out on Friday afternoon, and now I’ve shoveled a path to the feeder so it can be refilled. In minutes, there are bluejays and cardinals, with smaller birds cleaning up the scraps that fall from the feeder. This effort was worthwhile, but I hope to do no more shoveling this winter.

A significant snow on the way?

Note – The following post is reprinted with minor revisions from March 2013. Due to temperatures hovering just below freezing, the snow forecast for this weekend is expected to be wetter, and thus heavier. A wet snow tends to cling to branches, accumulating more quickly, and increasing the urgency in removing snow from vulnerable trees and shrubs. The most pertinent recommendations in this post have been highlighted.

If there are significant snow accumulations I will add updates through the weekend and link to older posts that addressed repairs to damaged trees and shrubs. I will also be available for questions and comments (as long as the electricity doesn’t cut out).

The rear garden under snow

Long before daylight this morning several inches of snow had fallen, and the worst of the storm is still to come. When I first went outside in the dark I was alerted to the problems ahead. Limbs of the wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple planted just off the corner of the garage were weighed down by snow accumulating in the dense branches to block half of the opening of the garage. As I looked across the garden the reflected light off the blanket of snow showed trouble in every direction.

Boxwoods and nandinas have been flattened by the heavy, wet snow, and crapemyrtle trunks fifteen feet tall are arched to nearly touch the ground. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before. Now, with only four or five inches of snow there are problems. What will happen with another six, or eight, or ten inches still to come?Nandina berries peaking out from the snow

With colder temperatures and light, fluffy snow there is usually nothing to worry about. The wind blows, and the snow slowly drifts to the ground. But, wet snows accumulate quickly in evergreens and densely branched plants. Once the branches are bent the real danger is that they will break, and in winter storms several years ago my garden suffered substantially due to too little action, too late. Also, branches of trees and shrubs that remain bent will often loose their rigidity if allowed to remain too long, so that when the snow is gone the branches do not spring back. Many times these will require severe pruning or other actions to repair the damage.Snow covered Mahonia bealei blooms

Here’s how I plan to spend my day (after finishing this brief update).

Before the heavier snow causes more damage I’ll go outside, armed with a leaf rake. The process is not complicated from here. A gentle nudge with the rake is all that’s needed to dislodge most of the accumulated snow. Greater force can cause more damage, and most often it isn’t necessary. If winds pick up later in the day that might help to clear additional snow, but if the heavy snow that weighs the branches is allowed to remain the breezes could cause greater injury.

I’ll work on deciduous trees like the Japanese maples and crapemyrtles first, since these are most easily damaged. Japanese maples, in particular, are soft wooded with branching that is readily damaged by snow. Weeping varieties of Japanese maples are most vulnerable with a thick canopy of branches that collect the heavy snow. Extra care should be used in clearing the snow from these maples to avoid injury.

Once the branches are nudged with the rake the snow falls to the ground, and the branch usually springs back, though not all the way. This is rarely a concern when the branches have been bent for only a few hours, and I’ll worry about that another day since there’s little that can be done today. It’s not necessary to remove every bit of snow from branches, though the snow that remains will catch more of the wet snow that is predicted for later in the morning. My first snow clearing trip around the garden will probably be one of several today.Snow on blue atlas cedar

After the deciduous trees I’ll work on evergreens next, and follow that with smaller evergreen shrubs like the boxwoods and nandinas that have more flexible branches and often spring back quickly. Several years ago evergreen southern magnolias and Leyland cypresses were severely damaged in consecutive winters. A single tall cypress in my garden was bent to a severe angle and was removed. The southern magnolias have grown back remarkably, but now their form is much more wide spreading since the broken trunks resulted in more horizontal growth. I’m afraid that this will only encourage more snow to accumulate in the branches, so these will be the first evergreens to be checked.

I have a large garden, with dozens of Japanese maples and small trees scattered over the acre and a quarter property, so this task will require constant vigilance today. What happens if I ignore the snow, and see what happens? I’ve done that before, and in prior years when substantial snow falls overnight the damage is already done before I wake up.Snow on Colorado spruce

Most often I have a casual attitude about garden chores. If I don’t pull weeds, they’ll still be there tomorrow (though they might have dropped a few thousand seeds in the meanwhile). Many garden chores can be put off, but a delay in removing snow from branches can cause irreparable damage to plants. So, I’m wrapping up my writing, grabbing my leaf rake, and heading outside. Also, while I’ve been writing it’s become light enough to see that the pace of snowfall has increased. The breeze has picked up and large clumps of snow are falling out of the tall tulip poplars and maples that border the garden.

The process of removing snow from trees and shrubs should not be vigorous exercise, and certainly is nothing compared to the labor of shoveling the driveway and walk. But, take care not to over exert, and if you are working in an area with tall trees be aware that branches could come down at any time. Avoiding damage to the plants in the garden is a much lesser concern than your personal safety, so be careful.