Arbor Hills Tree Farm, LLC
Phone: (402) 895-3635
Fax: (402) 895-2961

Winter Damage

Winter DamageWell, we are almost through the winter damage season. We’ve started getting phone calls seeking advice on what to do with some of your plants. While most gardens have come through the winter season just fine, some plants are looking a little worse. Here are some things you can do:


Broken Branches

Any branches that have snapped off or fallen, trim up the best you can. Make a cut about 1-2 inches from where it meets the main branch or trunk-also known as the branch collar. For branches too large to cut with hand pruners, make sure to use the three step cut. Here is an excellent video explaining what this is and how to do it.
Some branches peeled bark away as they fell and left ragged ends. Clean these up as best you can and don’t worry. It will heal over with time. It’s been found that the use of prune paint or any additional treatment just isn’t necessary. The trees are best left on their own to heal.

Splayed And Bent Over Branches

Many evergreens lost their upright form under the weight of the snow. Common victims were Italian Cypress and Arborvitae. Your course of action will depend on a few things. If you have a very mature Arborvitae with several leaders that just splayed out, the best option is to prune off what you can afford to and tie up the rest. Conifers will fill back in after pruning though it can take time. For this reason, you will likely want to retain the largest branches. Take some twine and bring the branches back together as best you can. If you have an old hose, cut off some pieces and slip it over the twine to prevent it from cutting into the bark. Check your ties every month or so to make sure they aren’t causing damage. In the summer, you can test the progress and untie it. If it still splays, you may have to keep it tied long term or do some further pruning.

For other conifers with just a few smaller branches gone awry, simply prune those off. All evergreen trees with upright branch habits are susceptible to damage in heavy snow. Keeping them pruned to have one main central leader will help them in any future winter damage. Also, shearing encourages them to grow more densely making it less likely for snow to fall into the top and cause it to be misshapen.

Many broadleaf hedges and shrubs were also affected. The ones more severely damaged were those that had grown quite large with single branches shooting up. These branches just buckled under the weight of the snow. Prune to thin out some of the taller fallen over branches. This will encourage them to bush out and will help protect them against future damage. You might want to lightly prune some of the remaining branches to give it a more uniform appearance. This spring, it will flush out and fill back in, catching up to the older growth in no time. For severely damaged shrubs, you can give them a harsh pruning. Be patient for the next few years as they grow and fill back out. If you want, you could replace the whole plant looking at it as an opportunity to try something new.

Burned Foliage

Many broadleaf evergreens have leaves with large brown spots because of the winter damage. They may look pretty rough but as long as there are parts still green, that leaf is still providing the plant with energy. Leave them be until they fall off on their own. In the spring, your shrub will push out new foliage and look fresh.


This could look very similar to burned foliage but this is mainly the top portions of a plant. It may take some time, but the entire top portion of the plant dies back while the lower portion is still alive. Sometimes the foliage may die fall off but the stems are still alive. You can check this by scratching the bark with your nail. If you are able to reveal a green inner portion, your branch is still alive. If all you see is brown, you can prune that portion back safely. You can also try bending questionable branches with your hand. The ones that are living will be flexible while dead branches are brittle and will snap. We were lucky in a way for the snow. It helped insulate the roots and lower branches of our plants during the frigid temperatures. Even if most of the plant didn’t survive, there is a good chance the roots are still alive and will emerge this spring. You’ll just have to wait and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

Tender Perennials And Bulbs

If you had some semi-tender plants and are concerned about how they fared, check the roots. Gently dig down. If you see a solid root system, your plant made it. What you don’t want to find is nothing but mush. In this case, you may want to start thinking about what you might put in its place in the spring because it’s no longer living.

Finally, consider any winter damage losses in your garden as an opportunity for change. Each year, many newer varieties become available. They can be hardier, more disease resistant, have stronger stems or even different colors.  Maybe Mother Nature just gave you that boost you needed to make 2017 the year for a new look in your garden!