How To Protect Trees And Shrubs From Heavy Snow (9 Things To Know)


Have you put a lot of work into the trees and shrubs in your yard?  If so, it would be a shame for them to get damaged or destroyed by heavy snow.

So, how do you protect trees and shrubs from heavy snow?  To protect your trees and shrubs from heavy snow, it is important to prune them properly.  Supporting or tying trees and shrubs will also help to protect them from heavy snow.  Removing snow gently with a broom or leaf blower will also reduce the weight on the branches of trees and shrubs.

Of course, choosing hardy plants and planting them in the right location will also help to avoid damage from heavy snow.

In this article, we’ll get into more detail about all of the ways to protect your trees and shrubs from heavy snow.  We’ll also talk about what to do after the fact if damage does occur.

Let’s get started.

How To Protect Trees and Shrubs From Heavy Snow

There are several important steps you can take to protect your trees and shrubs from heavy snow, including:

  • Choose your trees and shrubs wisely
  • Plant trees and shrubs in a good location
  • Water your trees and shrubs until frost
  • Prune trees and shrubs properly
  • Support or tie your trees and shrubs
  • Cover your trees and shrubs
  • Install wind barriers for your trees and shrubs
  • Remove snow from your trees and shrubs
  • Take care of any damage to your trees and shrubs

There are lots of ways to prevent snow from damaging your trees and shrubs.

We’ll start at the beginning, by choosing the right trees and shrubs.  This will help us to avoid damage from heavy snow in the first place.

Choose Your Trees and Shrubs Wisely

When choosing trees and shrubs to decorate your yard, it makes sense to consider their appearance.  However, it is also helpful to choose trees and shrubs that will resist damage from snow, ice, and wind.

Not all trees are created equal, however.  Some trees will have excellent resistance to snow, ice, and wind damage, including:

  • Black Walnut
  • Common Persimmon
  • English Oak
  • Red Oak
  • White Oak
oak tree
An oak tree is a good choice for a tree that will resist snow damage.

On the other hand, some trees and shrubs will have poor resistance to snow, ice and wind damage, such as:

  • Arborvitae
  • Bradford Pear
  • Cottonwood
  • Siberian (Chinese) Elm
  • Silver Maple

The Kansas State University Extension has a more extensive list of trees and how well they resist damage from snow, ice, and wind.

Now you have chosen the types of trees and shrubs you want to plant.  The next step is to choose specific plants that will resist damage from heavy snow and ice.

According to Clemson University, one of the best indicators is to look at the trunk.  A tree or shrub with a single central leader (trunk) is more likely to resist damage than one with two or more leaders.

You can see an image of a tree with multiple trunks on the Clemson University website.  Avoid these trees and choose ones with a single main trunk.

Plant Trees and Shrubs in a Good Location

After choosing the trees and shrubs you want to plant, the next step is to find the right location.  An area with good soil that gets enough sunlight is important.

However, you will also want to avoid areas that put a tree or shrub in danger of snow damage.  For example, avoid the following locations:

  • Under another taller tree (if the snow falls off the branches of a large tree, it could damage a smaller tree or shrub below it)
  • Too close to a house, garage, shed, or barn (if the snow falls off the roof, or if you rake it off, it could crush trees or shrubs underneath)
  • Near a driveway or street (snow from plowing, snow blowing, or shoveling will crush the branches of your trees and shrubs)
  • Anywhere that snow drifts occur (a snow drift, or tall pile of snow, happens due to the wind patterns in your yard.  You will know where the snow drifts accumulate after your first winter living somewhere!)
snow drift
If you plant trees or shrubs where the snow drift accumulates, then damage is more likely.

If you avoid planting trees in the locations above, you are well on your way to prevent heavy snow damage to your trees and shrubs.  If you have already planted your trees and shrubs in a less-than-ideal location, then follow the steps below to minimize snow damage.

Water Your Trees and Shrubs Until Frost

Trees and shrubs that get enough water will be healthier, with stronger trunks and branches.  It makes sense to keep your trees watered so that they can grow as strong as possible to survive winter.

With this in mind, keep watering your trees and shrubs until the ground freezes.  When the tree continues to get water until frost, it will develop its root system until dormancy.

frost
Water trees and shrubs until frost to keep their roots and branches stronger.

According to the University of New Hampshire Extension, the roots of a tree develop until the soil temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).  One benefit of a stronger root system is that a tree can access more water and nutrients in the soil. 

Another benefit is that strong roots are a better anchor.  Strong roots prevent a tree or shrub from tipping over or uprooting due to heavy snow, ice, or wind.

Keeping your trees and shrubs watered helps them to look their best in the spring and summer.  It also helps them to survive winter by keeping their roots and branches strong.

Prune Your Trees and Shrubs Properly

Pruning your trees and shrubs properly encourages strong growth and keeps them looking good.  It can also help to avoid damage from heavy snow in the winter.

When a tree has too many small branches close together, the snow has more chance of “sticking” between the branches and accumulating.

In a heavy snowfall of several inches (sometimes a foot or more!), this can make a difference of hundreds of pounds of snow.

Pruning is even more important for evergreen trees and shrubs.  Snow will accumulate more readily on these plants, since they do not lose their leaves (needles) in the winter.

snow on tree
Extra weight is more likely to accumulate on evergreen trees and shrubs, whose needles catch the snow easily.

When pruning a tree, look for branches that form a narrow “V-shaped” angle.  Instead, try to leave branches that look like the 10 or 2 on a clock (that is, 30 degrees above the horizontal).

As mentioned earlier, try to maintain one central leader (trunk) on the tree.  This will help to avoid damage from heavy snow and ice.

According to the University of Oregon, it is best to prune trees during their dormant period (November to March).  Pruning a tree while it is actively growing tends to slow growth.

Support or Tie Your Trees and Shrubs

You may want to support or tie your trees and shrubs before cold weather brings snowfall.  One way to provide support is to use a stake.

Staking is more common for young trees, but you can also stake shrubs.  Some trees may not need staking, but certain types will need the extra support.

Staking a tree can prevent damage during heavy snow.

For example, some dwarf apple and pear trees will need support.  The combination of shallow roots and heavy fruit makes these trees more likely to tip over or uproot themselves.  This is even more likely with the addition of extra weight from heavy snow.

This article from the Purdue University Extension can help you to decide if you should support your trees with a stake or a rope with stakes.

Another way to support plants is to tie them up with rope or bungee cord.  The idea is to wrap the rope around the tree to secure the branches.

This will prevent them from splaying out to the sides during heavy snowfall.  Just be sure to untie the tree or shrub before the plant puts out new growth in the spring.

You can find instructions for how to tie up trees and shrubs in this article from Clemson University.

You can find an illustration of a tied-up tree in this article from the Kansas State University Extension.

Trees may eventually grow large enough that they don’t need support.  Tying may be helpful for shrubs throughout their life cycle.

This is especially true for arborvitae and other shrubs that are easily damaged by snow.

Cover Your Trees and Shrubs

Another way to protect trees and shrubs from heavy snow is to cover them.  For small trees and shrubs, a jacket will work perfectly.

For example, you can find a polypropylene zip jacket from Gardener’s Supply Company.  These jackets are reusable for many seasons and they come in small, medium, and large sizes.

You can also opt for a burlap cover for trees and shrubs.  For example, this burlap roll from Gardener’s Supply Company is 3 feet by 48 feet and will allow plants to breathe while protecting them from snow.

burlap canvas
Burlap is a good option for snow protection for trees, since it allows them to breathe.

Another benefit of these jackets is that they prevent hungry deer from grazing on your trees and shrubs.

According to the University of New Hampshire Extension, you should not use black plastic to cover trees and shrubs.  Black plastic will cause temperatures to fluctuate, especially when the sun is strong.

One more option to cover young trees and smaller shrubs is to build a wood frame with a burlap roof.  This will protect plants from heavy snow as long as the structure doesn’t collapse!

Install Wind Barriers For Your Trees and Shrubs

Wind barriers will help to protect your trees and shrubs from strong wind, which by itself can break their branches.  However, a wind barrier can also prevent snow drifts and divert snow away from your trees and shrubs.

A well-placed wind barrier (windbreak or windscreen) will do just that.  With less wind and less snow, your trees and shrubs are much less likely to see damage.

The Michigan State University has instructions for creating a wind barrier on their site.  The barrier is made from burlap supported by posts driven into the ground.

They suggest using at least four posts per plant.  Remember to drive in the posts before the ground freezes, or else you won’t be able to complete your project.

fence with wooden posts
In a pinch, a fence with wooden posts could serve as the basis for a wind barrier.

Remove Snow From Your Trees and Shrubs (Promptly and Carefully)

Once the snowfall begins, there isn’t time to take any preventative measures to prepare your trees and shrubs for the extra weight.  However, you can remove some of the snow that has fallen and give them a better chance.

One way to remove snow from branches is to use a leaf blower.  This will work fine for light, powdery snow, but it may not be as effective for wet, heavy snow.

Another way to remove snow from branches is to use a long-handled broom.  Gently brush the snow off of the branches.

colorful brooms
Use a long-handled broom to gently brush away light snow.

You don’t have to do a perfect job – just get the majority of snow to reduce the weight load on the branches.  Be careful not to damage the branches with the broom.  This method will probably work better for wet, heavy snow.

Remember that you won’t really be able to remove ice from the branches with a leaf blower or broom.  In that case, you’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Some people suggest shaking the branches of a tree to remove snow.  There are advantages and disadvantages to doing this.

If there is a heavy load of snow and you think your tree is in imminent danger of losing branches, then you can shake it gently to remove some snow.

However, shaking too hard can hurt or snap the branches.  Also, the snow will fall right on top of you, and enough of it could pose a hazard.

If you have a leaf blower or broom, choose that option over shaking the tree or its branches.

Take Care of Any Damage to Your Trees and Shrubs

Sometimes, the snow is so heavy and the wind is so strong that damage to your trees and shrubs is inevitable.  It is tempting to try to help your plants right away, but doing so can cause more harm than good.

After losing many branches, a tree will be weak and susceptible to further damage.  Pruning too much right away could push it over the edge.

Instead, wait until mid-spring to remove dead branches.  Prune any damaged branches back to living tissue (cut below the split or damaged area).

pruning shears
Prune away dead or damaged branches once the tree has had a chance to recover a bit.

It is important to maintain symmetry for appearance and to prevent a tree from becoming too heavy on one side.  However, if a tree lost lots of branches in a snowy winter, it can wait until later years for symmetry pruning.

According to the North Dakota State University Extension, too much immediate pruning will damage trees to the point where they cannot recover.  They also suggest that you may need to replace trees if more than half of the limbs are broken.

Finally, you may want to hire a professional arborist to assess the damage to your trees.  He can also help you to decide whether to prune or replace trees, and how to prevent further damage.

Conclusion

Now you know how to protect your trees and shrubs from heavy snow.  You also know what to do to treat the damage if it does occur.

You might also want to check out my article on ground cover plants for Zone 6, which can tolerate subzero temperatures or my article on salt tolerant trees.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

You might also be interested in my article on how to protect plants from wind and storms.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

Recent Posts