Protecting the shrubs and bushes

After this week’s snowfall, I think winter has finally arrived. And looking at all the snow that shoveled or swept off my front porch onto my shrubs reminded me of a question someone asked. How do you protect shrubs, bushes and plants from snow and ice damage, especially snow and ice sliding off the roof?

I remember as a kid it was my job to brush the snow off the evergreens in front of our house. My mom was very specific: gently brush upward on the pointed bushes and side-ways on the square-topped ones. She never really explained why and, at that age, I didn’t really care.  I always figured it was either a way for me to “help” with snow removal or because the green bushes against the white snow looked cool.

In general, snow is not bad for bushes and shrubs – or any plant for that matter. It provides excellent insulation against West Michigan’s cold winter temperatures, protecting the roots like mulch.  The problem occurs when the snow is wet and heavy, when excessive amounts are added to the branches from shoveling/snow blowing or when ice and snow come down from the roof. Any of these can cause the limbs to break.

So what do you do?  If the concern is excessive or wet snow, one idea would be to tie the branches together in early winter. Another idea is to gently brush the snow off with your hands or with a brush (maybe my mom was on to something). Be careful, however. Sometimes trying to remove the excess can cause breakage if the snow is too heavy.

If the concern is snow and ice melt from the roof, there are a couple options. First, try not to plant the shrub or bush where the snow and ice melt from the roof can drip on it. If that isn’t a viable option, you might want to put some type of structure over the shrub or bush. The folks at Flowerland suggested a canopy or “lean-to.” An easy DYI version: Secure two stakes in the ground. Then secure a piece of plywood to the stakes and slope it over the bush or shrub at a 45 degree angle. The goal is to have the ice or snow drop onto the plywood and slide off.

If some branches do break despite your best efforts, don’t panic. Just prune the shrub or bush in late winter, making clean cuts below the broken areas which will help it to better “heal.”

Stay safe in the snow!