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Reshape damaged plants before the growing season begins

Columnar arborvitae tend to split in the center, leaving a large opening, but these will fill in and straighten out once again. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Now that we are allowed to work in the yard, you may have noticed some shrubs that became damaged by the ice storm in December or the heavy snow that took the stems down as it melted. Some of these stems are just bent from the weight of the ice and snow and others may be broken. While these items still remain dormant, this is the time to take care of those issues and begin a little reshaping of some items.

With any stems that are broken, it is best to cut back just below the breaking point. Some of these removed in shrubs won’t be that noticeable once they are gone. There are others that may have had more damage. I had an upright hydrangea that lost half of its branches in the heavy snow, so I ended up cutting most of the remaining branches back for it to regain its shape and height during the growing season. It may seem harsh in many cases to do this, but in all reality, it is a very beneficial process for the plant and may make it stronger in the long run.

Often evergreens can take the brunt of these damages as they have a large surface area and can hold a great deal of snow and ice. Although they are structured to hold large amounts of weight, they can crack under the pressures due to the wind or duration. Spruce have rigid stems that can snap under the weights, but snaps can be cut clean for proper healing. Pines are more airy in structure and can shake off the snow pretty easily, but their downfall is when they acquire ice accumulations on the long needles, which can easily cause breakage as the stems are not nearly as strong. Once again, cut the breakpoint clean and allow it to heal as these areas will eventually fill in during the years to come.

Smaller evergreens such as ground cover junipers and boxwood are rarely affected by this winter event as they are quite flexible and bounce right back. Juniper trees such as red cedar or Rocky Mountain junipers can be a little more brittle when wind is combined and can make jagged breaks and often result in bark tears along the trunk. Clean these wounds to make the bark tear as even as possible for quick healing. A sharp knife can often do the trick. I never recommend a tar spray or pruning sealer as this tends to slow the healing process. By letting nature take its course, it will correct the issues quickly.

Arborvitaes have a dense and heavy surface area also. I have globe arborvitae that nearly get flattened in the heavy snow. Every year when I see them buried, I just leave them alone as shaking the snow or ice off does more damage than good. Once the spring melt has occurred, it is amazing how quickly they bounce back into shape with rarely a break.

Upright arborvitae tend to split in the center as they often have multiple trunks in a column. Higher up in the tree these stems may bend under the weight for months if the snow and ice does not melt. During this time, the bends in the stems remain because of the lower temperatures and being in this position for a few weeks or months. I have been tempted to tie these stems together in the spring season to get them to straighten out, but have found if you just leave them alone, they correct this imperfections within the year. With arborvitaes, this central opening allows the sun to hit areas that don’t regularly see the sun and may help with interior growth to occur. These stems have an amazing strength and flexibility within them and the tree itself will be as good as new once the next winter season comes along.

If you have a large shrub or hedge that is not evergreen, which sustained severe damage, I recommend cutting it back to within a foot or two of the ground, and it will regenerate a new and healthy shrub by the end of the growing season.

Don’t be distraught by these situations after winter as it is all a normal process of our environment. None of these things are anything new; it is just that some years are a little worse than others. Take the time to appreciate the new season and make the best of things to come!