Trees Bent Over From Snow

February 10th, 2012

Southern gardeners may not be familiar with this, but us Northerners know it well.

Trees bent over by snow and ice

When you get a certain kind of snow, a wet snow, a heavy snow, a snow that is really a combination of snow and ice created at temperatures around the freezing point, it sticks to things. This wet snow probably brings down as much branches and trees in a year as a tornado. The snow and ice coats trees and branches weighing them down until they bend or they snap.

It normally happens to evergreens, with their foliage able to catch more snow, but it can happen to deciduous trees as well, as evidenced by the Rose of Sharons in the picture on the left (and in fact Paul James famously lost a bunch of oak trees on his property during such a storm), which are bent over double. To the right of them (in the center, far back) though are some arborvitaes, the scale-leaved evergreens like thujas or “red cedars“, these are normally double the height of the fence, and look how bowled over they are with the snow on top. Scale leaved evergreens are in my experience the most susceptible to this sort of storm, and can end up permanently damaged. I’m sure driving around you’ve seen such trees growing at odd angles like a mad giant went bonsai on them, blame the snow. This was in fact the worst such storm I’ve experienced since buying this property.

So, what can you do? If branches snap, nothing, cut them down if you can do so safely, but there is no saving the branch. Scale leaved evergreens tend to have pliable wood though and they tend to bend, but not break. However, those bends can become permanent. Whats more, now that they’re bent over they create a table for any future snowfalls to land on, sticky or not, and compound your problem.

The first thing you should do is go out and shake or brush the snow loose, and gently try to correct the branches, they won’t go back easily, they like their new position, but make the effort. They’ll probably be bent to an odd angle for the rest of the winter, but… but… in the Spring, when the sap starts flowing faster, the wood tends to rebound to the original position it was in, and with any luck, your tree will go back to normal. If it does not, you can help it. Many scale leaved evergreens have multiple leaders (trunks) and it are these leaders that split apart. You can tie them together (something soft and flexible, old pantyhose works) but remove the tie after a season. However if you’re just proactive during the winter and get the snow off them as soon as possible, making the bend as temporary as possible, they should eventually get back into roughly the same position.

Needle evergreens can also be damaged from such storms, in fact this storm did break a branch on one of my spruces. These trees tend to have harder wood though and so are less likely to bend (though, they do break instead). The biggest risk is that you let the snow accumulate more after future storms, so even if the drooping isn’t that bad, you should try to remove the snow from the branches you can reach as a preventative measure.

You can also try to brush it off any deciduous bushes or small trees you may have, but be careful, deciduous wood is very brittle in the winter and you could accidentally break something.

5 Responses to “Trees Bent Over From Snow”

  1. Doug  Says:

    Some plants are well adapted to this kind of stress. I’ve seen river birch laid flat from ice or heavy snow bounce right back when things warm up.

  2. Carol  Says:

    “Save the Plants” That was my expression, during that freek storm! My Husband shoveled out a car in the driveway, and snow-blowed the paths, while I hurried to shake every small tree and bush I could before the weight of snow snapped it off!I felt like a crazy women, scurrying from one tree to the next,inviteably shaking snow all over myself in the process! Not to mention the 3 ft. of it I was trudging through!
    But I saved what I could, though I don’t know what my wisteria tree will do this spring, it loots a bit frazzeled! And one old rose bush, (so old I can’t remember the variety, had many broken canes! Visit my garden for an update!

  3. James Mann  Says:

    Living in New Brunswick Canada we get a lot of winters that look like that. Looks like a picture postcard. I love it.

    Last year got a little too much ice along with the snow which did a fair bit of damage.

  4. Dine  Says:

    Most of the plants up north are adapated or used to this heavy snow. I just love that shot. The view of the trees and snow is amazing.

  5. Tyler  Says:

    Wow, this looks familiar! We had some terrible snow and ice in mid-January here in the Seattle area and we still have branches hanging low from the damage. We had power out for days! We had to support some of our trees to stand erect again and of course will have to amputate some lost branches when the weather gets nice again…

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