When you walk through your yard or garden after the snow melts, you are likely to see damage to your shrubs from the snow load, especially on evergreen plants which hold more of the snow.
Branches may have torn completely off of the plant, or may be broken but still attached. Any obviously broken branches that are still attached should be removed from the plant. They should be cut back to undamaged wood on the larger branch to which they are attached, or back to the trunk. If the branch has fallen away completely leaving a stub, then the stub should be removed. Pruning of small branches is not difficult, but there is a “right way” to do it so that the wound heals more rapidly.
There are plenty of easily accessible brochures on the web about pruning, and the Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center has some videos. Here are some places to start: (from the University of Maryland; Purdue University and the University of Minnesota).
(Pay attention to the pruning technique near the end of the “large trees” video, especially shot of the branch collar. People tend to want to prune back flush to the trunk of the tree or shrub, but that is incorrect. The video shows the correct way.)
Behnke Nurseries has pruning DVD’s and booklets by Fran West, who has conducted pruning workshops for Behnke’s on occasion. We sell a wide range of pruners and other tools, with more coming in early March as we load up for Spring. We can offer advice if you come into the store, especially if you bring photos and a plant sample so we are better able to see what you’re describing.
For big branches and trees, hire an expert. Behnke Nurseries’ landscape department will do spring cleanup for you, including pruning and thinning shrubs and smaller trees. Some jobs call for an arborist with specialized equipment. If so, our landscapers will either subcontract part of the project to an arborist, or refer you to a company in which we have confidence.
Some damage from snow is not immediately obvious. Arborvitae and other upright evergreens tend to split; that is, the snow forces the upward-facing branches away from the center of the plant, and flares them out horizontally. You can lift the branches back up and tie the plant loosely together, and it may look okay while it is still cold, but damage may show up several months from now.
The branches may begin to turn brown because even though the branches did not snap, the “innards” have broken and those branches can no longer get water from the roots. If that occurs, cut off the dead branches.
Again, if you want to bring in a good picture (hint: bigger than a cell phone helps us see what you are trying to show us) and a branch, we will tell you if we think the problem is being caused by winter damage or something else like root rot from soggy soils or feeding damage from mites or insects.
Plants are pretty resilient, and often times will come back from damage looking fuller and healthier a year later, especially younger plants. If not, here’s the perfect time to plan that garden makeover you’ve always dreamed of.