While it is true that our New England gardens go dormant in winter (mostly – see Witch Hazel), there are a few reasons to keep an eye out for problems as a result of our damaging weather. Snow and ice can cause significant damage to trees and shrubs, and every winter I learn of broken branches and snapped trunks from clients.
The easiest and most successful way to minimize any winter issues to prized ornamental plants and shrubs is to have them pruned properly and with some regularity. However, heavy snow can stress even well pruned plants and occasionally they need some relief from the heavy burden of the wet snow. I use my pole pruner or a hockey stick to gently tap branches and trunks to lighten the snow load.
Now, I don’t go out and remove snow from every plant. Many winters, some shrubs and smaller plants will be bent over for months under the weight of snow and once the snow melts, they return to their normal shape. Mostly I remove some of the snow from special ornamental trees of value and structural shrubs.
It takes just a few minutes and can save hundreds to thousands of dollars to replace damaged plants. Many damaged plants will rebound, but it can take years for their shape to return if at all.
Be very gentle, or you will cause the same problem you are trying to prevent. I find that some gentle taps will knock off the excessive snow and leave some on the branches. I am always out lightening the load on a large row of Arborvitae. The wood is so soft and flexible that they would double over if not for a little care.
Just remember to take a quick look outside during and after a bad snow or ice storm, especially when the snow is heavy and wet. As a warning remember to wear a hat as the deluge of snow from a larger tree will pile into your jacket at the collar. That little gem comes from my personal experience.