How To Protect Your Evergreens In Winter

Should you knock the snow and ice off, or leave it on?

December 5, 2017
winter evergreen
Phil Lewis/getty

When trees bow to the ground and normally conical shrubs splay out in ungainly positions in the wake of a winter storm, a gardener’s instinct is to take immediate action to relieve landscape plants of their burdens. But acting in haste can do more harm to your plants and may put your safety at risk, as well.

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Always proceed with caution when venturing into the landscape following ice, snow, or the never-popular wintry mix. Be on the lookout for tall trees and limbs that are dangerously laden and avoid walking under ice-coated branches. Icy trees may snap without warning, even if they look solid and unharmed by their burden. Stay away from fallen or sagging utility wires and report them to the appropriate agency.

winter evergreens
Yves Marcoux/getty

Branches within your reach that are bent out of shape by a heavy snowfall may be cleared by gently sweeping off the accumulation with a broom. Use common sense in this effort—don’t stand below snow-covered branches and bat at them to knock away the snow. It might be funny if you wind up with a load of snow down the back of your parka, but far less humorous if a heavy branch comes down on your head. Be wary of flexible branches that may whip back unpredictably when relieved of their weight.


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Resist the temptation to rescue trees coated by a layer of ice. Shaking and beating ice-coated branches and trunks can cause breakage, damage to the tree’s vascular system, and injury to needles and buds far beyond the ill effects the ice may create. Wait until ice has melted to assess the effects of an ice storm on shrubs and trees. Prune broken branches as soon as it is safe to do so, but don’t rush to remove limbs that are bent but otherwise undamaged—they may return to their natural positions within a few days. Unless you are skilled and confident with a chainsaw, leave major limb and tree removal to a trained—and properly insured—arborist.

winterized shrubs
Photograph courtesy of GARDEN EXPOSURE PHOTOS


Preventive action can protect upright evergreens, such as arborvitae and junipers, from a bending load of frozen precipitation. Wrapping small trees and shrubs that have multiple stems with twine, strips of cloth, or nylon to hold them upright helps keep snow and ice from weighing them down, according to Richard Rideout of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division. Before a winter storm, tie up multiple leaders about two-thirds of the way up from where they emerge from the main stem. Then loosely wrap twine or netting around the outer limbs to make them less of a target for ice and snow. Be sure to remove wrappings promptly in spring to avoid girdling stems or constricting the tree’s natural growth.