Ask a Master Gardener: Evergreens bounce back from heavy snow loads
Trees are often tougher than we imagine and recover from being bent over.
Q: Our mugo pine tree is heavily weighed down by the recent snow. Should we knock the snow off the branches, or leave it alone? Will it be misshapen after this?
A: Heavy snow and ice can cause damage to both deciduous and evergreen trees, but trees are often tougher than we imagine and recover from being bent over.
It’s generally best to leave branches alone if they are covered with ice, because trying to remove it can do more harm than good, breaking branches and damaging needles. But if it’s just soft snow, you can remove it gently. Rather than knocking on the branches or shaking the bush or tree, brush the snow off with a broom. Do that before fresh, soft snow has a chance to compact and adhere to the branches.
If branches on a deciduous tree or evergreen are broken and ragged, prune them back.
In the future, you can help prevent damage to branches that tend to get weighed down by snow by tying them to the trunk before winter sets in. Use soft, wide strips of cloth. Evergreen shrubs with multiple stems or a tall, slender shape can be wrapped with a soft cord to keep the branches bunched together. Shrubs planted next to each other can be wrapped or tied together. Remove the ties in spring.
As for whether your mugo pine will recover its shape, I’m optimistic. I have a very tall, very skinny column-shaped juniper, and one year the weight of the snow bent half of it out at almost a 90-degree angle. It stayed that way once the snow was gone. We coaxed it back up gently and tied it to the part that was still upright, and a couple of years later it looks as good as new.
Most of the time, you don’t need to take such drastic measures to repair the looks of evergreen trees that have been bent out of shape by snow or ice. Evergreens tend to be resilient and flexible and will usually come back into shape on their own eventually. Usually, it’s best to be patient and let them do this rather than bending them.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to email@example.com .