Home & Garden

Weathering the winter

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Weathering the winter

Going on the Defensive
For those gardeners and homeowners living in regions that regularly experience snow and ice storms during winter, there are a number of ways to prepare against damage to your plants and property. The first is to select plants that are known for weathering storms.

(Too Much) Snow Falling on Cedars
Sometimes, as the snow floats down through a cold calm sky, the sound of each snowflake as it lands on the evergreens comes faintly but clearly to your ears, like the sound of pins dropping one by one. In other storms, the flakes are big and soft and settle on the foliage as gently as goose down. Snow in all of its manifestations is beautiful to behold. However, too much snow falling on cedars and many other trees can be more beauty than some trees and shrubs were meant to handle.

The degree of resilience of a tree to ice and snow damage is nearly as reliant on the age, health, and placement of the tree as it is on the species and variety. For example, the many species and varieties of false cypress range from short, sturdy slow-growing trees, such as Hinoki false cypress, which are quite resistant, to the upright and open form of Lawson false cypress, which is prone to damage. In between these extremes are many species that tolerate snow and ice but can be left a little bent by the experience, too.

Be aware, however, that an accumulation of ice to even 1/2 inch (1 cm) can damage plants. In the worst ice storms, 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm) of ice will form on branches and trees, which is much more ice than any tree should be expected to bear.

Shielding Your Plants from Harm
If you've ever experienced an ice storm, you know that whatever freezing rain lands on, there the ice will form. If the rain never reaches the plants, the ice doesn't either. A shield is a device that is most often used to protect foundation plants from the ravages of ice dropping from the eaves.

Many designs are available, but the common feature is they are constructed of hard, durable material that will withstand the assault of large icicles as they drop from above.

Sandwich board. The most efficient design is a sandwich board composed of two pieces of plywood joined at the top with a pair of hinges. This roof-shaped shield is then set over a plant. Falling ice just glances off the sandwich board; freezing rain accumulates on the board rather than on the plant.

Plastic-covered hoops. Some of the same devices that are used to extend the growing season can also be used to protect plants from ice. If you used a series of metal hoops covered by Reemay cloth to warm the plants beneath it, you can protect against ice by replacing the cloth with white plastic (8 mil works well); the ice then collects on the plastic, not the plants. Plastic obviously isn't as strong as wood, but as the ice accumulates, it can be quickly removed: Just tap the plastic to crack the ice and send it sliding down to the ground.

Braces. Braces are any devices that strengthen the existing structure of a tree or shrub. The plants most sensitive to ice storms are upright evergreens with multiple stems. To reinforce these plants, use a roll of about 4-inch-wide (10 cm) fabric tape. Begin at the bottom of the plant and tie the tape around the plant as close to the ground as possible. Wrap the plant in an upward spiral, drawing in the branches toward the center of the plant. Tie off the tape near the top of the plant.

Excerpted from The Weather-Resilient Garden by Charles W. G. Smith. Copyright 2004 by Charles W. G. Smith. Excerpted, with permission by Storey Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Snow Traps
There seems to be an abundance of stories about places that receive too much snow, like the inn on Mount Rainier that once had a snowpack well over 20 feet (6 in) deep. What people don't talk about as much is how to get more snow to places that need it. This is accomplished by constructing devices that trap the snow that falls or blow it into areas that need it for insulation or soil moisture. There are many types of snow traps, including windbreaks. These can be temporary, such as those made of snow fencing, or permanent, such as hedges and hurricane fences. These structures collect snow on the upwind side of a fence and should be aligned perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds.

Another type of snow trap is used in farm fields. The farmer cuts the crop, such as alfalfa or wheat, to leave stubble about 4 inches (10 cm) tall. The stubble catches the snow as it blows over the field, creating a reservoir of snow. A gardener can adapt this technique. When you cut back perennials and the lawn in fall, leave 4- to 6-inch-tall (10-15 cm) stubs on the perennials and cut the lawn at about 3 inches (8 cm) tall. These measures will help trap the snow.

Snow-Removal Strategies
During a heavy snowfall, it is common for a foot or two (0.3-0.6 m) of snow to top every one of your prized landscape plants. Few plants in the world can carry such loads gracefully, and it is natural for the gardener to want to relieve the burden as soon as possible. Here's how to do it while minimizing the chance of damaging the plants.

Needled evergreens. Look over the snow-covered plant and see how many and which branches are buried. In big storms, the lower branches are often completely buried in snow and those above them just have their tips buried; the upper portions of the tree are capped in snow. Use a broom and begin at the top. Tap the leader to release the snow. As this snow falls, it often knocks some snow off the lower branches. Work your way down, gently sweeping off the snow with a side-to-side motion. When you reach the branches that are buried, carefully move the topmost of these to see if they will pop out of the snow. If there is any resistance, stop and let the buried branches stay buried.

Broadleaf evergreens. Different types of broadleaf evergreens react differently to snow loads. Small-leafed rhododendrons, like the PJM varieties, have an open, upright branching pattern that makes the branches collect snow and then droop toward the ground. It is tempting to lift a branch from the middle, but this often results in snapping the limb. Instead, support the branch directly under the cap of snow and gently shake the snow free. If the tip of the branch is buried, let it stay buried. This same method should be used for deciduous shrubs with an open, loose branch habit (such as spirea and beautybush).

Excerpted from The Weather-Resilient Garden by Charles W. G. Smith. Copyright 2004 by Charles W. G. Smith. Excerpted, with permission by Storey Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Weathering the winter

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