January 2014

Tips to avoid winter damage of plants, pets and hardscape

Gently brush snow from evergreen branches if they start to bend out of shape. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Most of us can weather winter by not going outdoors unless we have to. Our landscape plants, though, must withstand the relentless elements of the season along with some poisons delivered by humans.

Here are some tips for protecting landscape plants from winter hazards.

  • If snipping evergreens for indoor use, do so gently. Heavy pruning at this time of year can damage conifers.
  • Try not to walk repeatedly on frozen or frosted grass. Foot traffic breaks the grass blades and damages the lawn. Constantly walking on the grass any time of year compacts the soil.
  • Do not remove ice from plants. Ice covered branches on trees and shrubs are brittle and can break easily and damage plants.
  • For snow-laden, bowed branches on evergreens, use your hand or a broom to brush off the white stuff in gentle, sweeping motions. Arborvitae (Thuja), in particular, seems most susceptible to damage from snow loads. This evergreen can easily become misshapened by heavy loads. Consider gently binding the plant with rope or twine to keep the branches close to the plant.
  • Protect plants near roadways from being sprayed with snowy sludge by passing cars. The road spray can harm plants or ice them over. If the roads have been treated with salts or other ice melts, the plants can be killed by the spray.

Care also needs to be taken when using ice-melting products on walkways around flower beds and gardens. The water that results from the melting ice will run into the beds and possibly contaminate the soil.

Ice melt products can damage concrete or flagstone by pitting the surfaces, cracking or causing other deterioration. Some ice melts also can damage the paws of pets. Look for products labeled safe for pets, plants and pathways. Always read and follow label directions on the product you use.