Snow Cover on Trees and Shrubs

snow on bushes in the Jones Rose Garden at Reiman Gardens

As the winter season marches on and the snow starts to fall, we typically start to see snow gathering on top of shrubs and trees and weighing down branches. This can create a beautiful winter vista, but can also cause concerns about branching snapping. Thankfully, branches are very flexible and more resilient than they look, so breakage is unlikely.

Snow acts as an insulator and protects roots and bulbs from freezing. Snow can also prevent evergreens from discoloring from cold wind. Boxwood (Buxus) and Norway Spruce (Picea abies) are especially prone to discoloration. Light snow cover also protects tender flower buds from dying due to cold air. This is especially true with spring blooming woody plants like Border Forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) and Peach trees (Prunus persica), or any plant that forms flower buds in fall.

The only potential problem is heavy, wet snow that can weigh branches down enough to snap them. If you are worried about broken branches, use a broom to gently sweep the snow off of the branches. Using a shovel or other hard edged tool can scrape the bark or break smaller branches. Likewise, shaking a weighed down branch may cause it to break due to brittleness.

If ice has formed on the branches don’t try to scrape it off or use chemical ice melt, as this will damage the branch more than the ice. If tree branches do break, wait to prune branches until the end of winter unless they pose a safety risk. Evergreens with multiple upright stems are more prone to breaking, like Arborvitae (Thuja) and pyramidal Yew (Taxus), so consider tying the stems together to provide more stability.