Melting snow can show winter’s damage
April has arrived and we are now seeing more ground than snow, so we are on the right track! As the snow recedes, we often find a lot of winter damage to our shrubs and sometimes to our trees due to heavy snows, rodents and the wind. Wind is a common element in our area and this winter we seemed to have a great deal of it. I am not a fan of wind, but wind in the winter time allows the dead branches to fall free from the large trees, so there is a bonus for me.
The first thing I do in spring is get outside and smell the fresh air. While I am doing this and being serenaded by all the birds who are just as happy as I am to see spring, I take a look around the yard to see what is happening. Our heavy snows were tough on some bushes, but mostly hard on low evergreens. Tall and narrow arborvitae can get snapped branches due to the heavy wet snows that brought many tops near the ground. With natural snow melt, these often break free and spring back to life without issue, but there are times the limbs can break due to the weight and lack of flexibility. My columnar arborvitae gave me a scare, but they all came through without much trouble. My globe arborvitae were nearly flattened underneath the weight of the snow and mostly buried throughout the winter. As the snow has receded, I have seen a few central branches separated from the main stem, which will cause a gap for now. Careful pruning of these broken branches is important. A nice clean cut to allow efficient healing is best and by the end of the year, many of these smaller holes will fill in with new growth. For larger shrubs, this may take an additional season.
Shrubs that have soft wood are often damaged due to rodents such as mice, voles and rabbits. Often rabbits will target areas above the snow line and chew off all the ends. In some cases this is just a nice natural pruning element, but in other cases, this results in an irregular shape. If that is the case, simply reshape the shrub after the snow leaves and before the leaves bud. Voles and mice go underneath the snow and eat off the bark of the stems and often girdle these stems, causing the end of the branch to die. Sometimes this damage is severe where the entire bush needs to be cut to the ground to regrow or it is minimal where you can just cut out the damaged areas. In most cases, the shrub will remain just as healthy and vibrant as years past.
Often I tell people to protect young and new fruit trees in the fall time by placing a wrap around the stems or main trunk. Not only does this prevent sunscald to happen on the bark, but it also protects the bark from been eaten by these rodents. If the animals strip the bark off all the way around the base of your tree, everything above that point will die. If it is only stripped at 50 percent of less, this will scar over and in most cases the tree will survive to live a full and healthy life.
Dwarf Alberta spruce or one of the evergreens that suffer the most from winter burn. This is when the sun and the drying winds of winter rob the needles of moisture and they turn rusty brown. In most cases, after the tree buds out in spring, the new green growth fills in the gaps and makes the winter damage fade away. This is really just the process of the dead needles falling off and the new ones taking over. Some junipers will burn also, but before cutting anything out early, wait till the end of June to see what areas are growing and which ones need to be cut out at that time. Often a burned branch can set new buds for green growth.
Some lawns will experience snow mold. This usually happens when the wet snow creates an ice layer underneath and doesn’t allow the grass below to breath and reach the air. A webby looking coat will cover small spots of your lawn and cause them to brown up. Once these areas dry out, a quick addition of grass seed over those areas will solve the problem by June.
As for now, inspect the yard and see what needs to be done and what has happened over the winter months. As for me, I have a few branches to clip out and many dead branches to collect off the ground that have fallen from the trees. These will make excellent kindling for the fire pit and a nice relaxing evening outdoors.