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Dealing with Winter Damage

It’s early spring—time to survey the damage that winter has produced. In some areas, shrubs may still be hiding under piles of frozen snow, and could be crushed or compacted. Severed tree limbs may lie scattered across the landscape, and bark may be torn and stripped from trunks. It’s difficult to know what to tackle first, but fortunately, much of the damage is easily correctible.

Repairing Winter-Damaged Trees

When surveying and repairing winter damage, start with your trees—they are generally the most valuable additions to your property. As you survey the damage—broken limbs, torn bark, a tilting trunk—ask yourself, “Is this tree salvageable or should it be removed?” If the damage is extensive, or you are unsure about how the damage may affect the tree's overall health or future growth, hire a professional for a consultation. Replacing a severely damaged tree with a younger one, perhaps a type you like even better, may be the best solution. 

If a limb is broken somewhere along its length, or damaged beyond repair, employ good pruning practices and saw off the remaining piece at the branch collar, being careful not to cut into the trunk or leave a stub. Sometimes a fallen limb may strip bark off the tree trunk. To repair this damage, cut the ragged edges of the loose bark away from the stripped area to firmly affixed healthy bark. Nature will take care of the rest. Even if the trunk of the tree is split, the tree may still be saved. For large trees, repairing this type of damage usually requires cabling and bracing done by a professional. If the tree is still young, the crotch may be pulled tightly together and tied or taped until the wound eventually heals.

Repairing Winter-Damaged Shrubs

Shrubs can suffer the same damage as trees, including broken limbs and stripped bark. Heavy snowfall can crush smaller shrubs, and larger varieties may have their trunks or centers split from heavy snow or ice accumulation. Most shrubs are resilient, however, and slowly regain their shape as the weather warms. If branches are bent but not broken, you may tie them together to help them along and prevent further damage from late-season storms. Do not tie tightly and remove twine after about a year. Completely broken branches may be pruned away, but take care to maintain the shrub's form and balance, keeping in mind its growth pattern so it will not look lopsided or ungainly. Again, if the damage is severe, you may need to replace the plant.

The harder the winter is, the more of a beating trees and shrubs will take. With prompt attention in early spring, however, you can easily undo much of the damage and help your landscape recover with ease.

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