University of Illinois Extension

Snow and Ice Can Harm Evergreens

Frozen FernEvergreen plants can be harmed by winter's fellow travelers—snow and ice, said a University of Illinois Extension plant pathologist.

"Inspect your plants for winter damage," said Jim Schuster. "Snow can cause excessive bending down of evergreen branches to the point of breaking. These broken branches will always be weak if you try to bend them back up or tie them back up.

"Consider cutting them off and if possible, train neighboring branches to grow and fill in the gaps."

To avoid breakage or other injury, try to keep heavy wet snow brushed off the plants as soon as it stops snowing or even while it is snowing. Do not beat on the branches to remove the snow. Use a broom to lightly push or brush the snow off the branches.

"Sometimes the snow bends the leader of the evergreen over," he noted. "If the leader remains bent over too long, it may not return to its normal position after the snow melts.

"Carefully brush the snow off the plant. If after removing the snow, the plant stays bent over, it may need some sort of support. To correct this problem, the leader has to be straightened and then tied or anchored in place."

If the tree is not too big, a stake can be tied to the trunk below the bent over tip and then the bent leader can be tied upright to the stake. The stake needs to remain in place for several growing seasons until enough new internal wood is made to support the damaged wood in the upright position.

However, if the tree is very large, guide wires anchored to the ground may have to be used for several years. If the tree has multiple leaders like many arborvitae and junipers have, the leaders may spread outward like the spokes in a wagon wheel.

"You may not need to stake or guide wire the multiple leader plants," he said. "Instead pull the stems back upright and tie them in one big circle rather than tying individual leaders."

At least once a year, the tied areas need to be untied and retied at slightly different heights. If the ropes (or what was used to tie the leader to the stake) are never adjusted, the ropes can strangle and kill the leader.

"Even though it may sound and look odd, panty hose makes a better material for tying your tree to a stake (as well as your tomatoes or any other plant that needs to be staked)," Schuster noted. "Panty hose do not cut into the plant tissues like rope or wire. Nylon also takes longer to fall apart so it can be used longer. To help the nylon blend in better, use brown or green panty hose. In addition cut the pants part out and use just the leg part for tying."

Ice can be more difficult to remove, he added.

"Trying to remove ice from bent over plants often results in greater damage," he said. "Instead wait for the ice to melt and then straighten and tie upright if necessary."