KC Gardens

Best thing for evergreen trees recovering from winter storms: Leave them be

To help smaller trees and shrubs, you can wrap or tie them together in the fall, before the first snow. It can help reduce the weight of the snow or ice.
To help smaller trees and shrubs, you can wrap or tie them together in the fall, before the first snow. It can help reduce the weight of the snow or ice. Kansas State University Research and Extension

Many evergreens look sad because of the heavy snow a few weeks back. They are bending, drooping and weeping out of their natural shape.

The question everyone is asking is: Will they recover?

I am glad to report good news. In most cases, yes. That is because many of our evergreens are resilient.

Let trees heal themselves

Evergreens, such as boxwood, arborvitae, false cypress, yews and junipers, took a beating from the heavy snow and ice. The good news is these plants have very flexible branches. Because of these limber branches, most of the evergreens did not experience limb breakage.

Given time, the plant will naturally right or correct itself. Don’t rush the natural process.

This does not mean they will be as perfectly in shape as before. But down the road, it will not be as noticeable. It may take six months to a year.

My recommendation is to resist the temptation to help nature out. In other words, don’t go out and pull, tie or stake the branches back into place. Doing this can weaken the limbs as they become dependent on the support rather than its natural wood. I know it is hard to resist the helping hand, but in this case, nature knows better.

Remove limbs that are broken, split or damaged from the storm — damages that the plant cannot repair. Leaving it in place or attempting to tie it back together can potentially lead to more damage.

Often when a branch is removed, the opening allows sunlight penetration and new growth will slowly fill in, camouflaging the area.

An ounce of prevention

It’s hard to predict when the next snow storm will cause such damage. But there are a few simple practices that can reduce the effects of the weight on the limbs.

In the fall, before the first snow, wrap or tie together smaller, upright trees and shrubs. This involves circling the plant with a soft cord, old nylon hose or a bungee cord. Pulling the branches together and holding them upright can reduce the weight of the snow or ice.

Be careful not to use a material that will cut into the bark and cause additional damage. The supports should be removed in the spring after winter danger has passed. Leaving the supports in place will weaken the strength of the limbs.

Another trick is to use a broom to gently brush off the snow as it falls. Avoid vigorous motions that causes the limbs to shake or bounce as the weight of the movement can cause the limbs to break.

Brushing only works with powdery snow. It is best to wait for any ice or frozen snow to melt. Brushing or knocking off the ice will break branches and pull off needles.

The good news is that most evergreens are resilient and bend but do not break.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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