Preventing Snow DamageBy Pat Curran, Horticulture Educator, Tompkins County Cooperative Extension
(Originally published in November 2010)
Question: How do I prevent trees and shrubs from snow and ice damage?
Answer: Trees with good branch structure are more resistant to snow and ice damage. Proper pruning helps to produce stronger branch crotches and to prevent double leaders, which are inherently weak and rot-prone. While dead wood can be removed at any time, most pruning is best done in late winter or early spring. At that time, trees are resuming active growth and will start to grow bark over pruning wounds almost immediately (pruning paint is no longer recommended). Pruning now leaves the wounds open to infection from fungus all winter while the tree is dormant, so it is not generally recommended. But if a particular tree has a very weak juncture of branches that might tear off under a snow or ice load, remedial pruning before winter may be the lesser of two evils.
Most multistemmed shrubs are flexible enough to bend under a snow or ice load and then spring back later. If a few branches get broken, most shrubs will send up new growth. Shrubs right under the edge of the roof may need extra protection, however. In particular, narrow shrubs, especially evergreens, may split apart. To prevent that, shrubs can be carefully wrapped with flat straps, in a spiral fashion from bottom to top, to hold the branches together. I have also had good luck using a broom to gently lift branches from underneath and shake off snow and ice.
For more information on gardening, including preventing winter damage to plants, consult the Cornell gardening website or call the horticultural hotline at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County at 272-2292.
Last updated January 29, 2021