Should I shake snow and ice off the branches of my shrubs and trees, or is it better to let them shed naturally by themselves? — S.E., Fryeburg, ME
It’s always wise to remove heavy snow that accumulates on your landscape plants before it freezes there and breaks or deforms the branches. Gently lift branches upward with a broom or strong pole and shake the snow off, starting near the top of the plant. If snow has already frozen on the branches, or if there’s ice, it’s best to wait until temperatures rise above freezing.
Trees and shrubs with horizontal branching tend to be less susceptible to snow and ice damage. Most conifers, including juniper, yew, spruce, and pine, have relatively flexible branches and are well adapted to shedding snow before it becomes so heavy that it breaks branches. Multistem shrubs and trees, and those with narrow upright branching, can be seriously harmed when heavy accumulations pull branches apart. Sometimes tying the stems of such shrubs together can reduce winter damage. But prevention is a better approach: Prune properly, and maintain your plants so that they develop strong branching that resists winter injury.
R. Wayne Mezitt is chairman of Weston Nurseries, Hopkinton, MA