JoAnne Skelly: Preventing winter injury

Snow flurries have begun. The first storm dropped heavy “Sierra cement,” that wet slushy snow whose weight often damages plants. Here are a few tips for preventing winter injury to plants.

When snow lands on trees and shrubs, we want to brush it off, particularly when we see it weighing down branches or when it falls on us as we walk underneath or by it. The trick to removing snow safely from plants is not to just whack at the snow with a broom or rake, but to lift up from underneath the branch with the tool instead. Otherwise, the snow can break a branch as you push down on it.

Some plants located under eaves can experience heavy snow load falling off a roof. Plants can be smashed or split, sometimes irreparably. Constructing a plywood snow ramp or slide over the plant and attaching it to the wall on a cleat, can allow the snow to hit the wood and slide down to the ground without landing on the plant.

Our winter sun and wind can be very destructive to plants such as rhododendrons. These need protective barriers around them to shade them and to cut the wind. These shields can be made of wood or burlap wrapped around support posts. How many sides you need for the shield depends on how exposed the shrub is. Tree trunks may also be damaged by winter sun and windburn. Wrap trunks, particularly of young trees, with commercial tree wrap, cardboard, burlap or even old tights or panty-hose.

Junipers and other evergreens, including broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons and euonymus, continue to lose moisture through the winter months. Using an anti-transpirant product puts a wax-like seal on the needles and leaves preventing water loss.

De-icing walkways is a common winter safety precaution. Be aware that many de-icing products are salt-based and can burn plants, harm pets (particularly those with kidney disease) or damage concrete and other paving materials. Salts can build up in the soil causing longer-term impacts to plants. In addition, product runoff can get into waterways. Personal safety is important, so for more information on de-icing products check out Consumer Reports ( Some brands claim they are pet and environment friendly. Read labels. The addition of sand to any de-icing product usually improves traction. Or, plain sand, light gravel, cinders or cat litter can help.

For more information, read the Cooperative Extension publication “Preventing Winter Injury to Landscape Plants,” available at

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment