Homeowners beware: this week’s snowstorm that brought heavy snow and cold temperatures have put many trees and shrubs at risk, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Kirsten Conrad. 

“Expect to see damage on broad-leaved and coniferous evergreens like magnolia, pine, cypress, hemlock, cedar, camellia, rhododendron, and others. Herbaceous plants under the snow will be fine as will most of our trees, but homeowners are advised to remove as much snow as possible from the limbs of trees and shrubs that are holding this snow,” says Conrad.

To prevent further damage to trees, Conrad offers this advice:

-Carefully remove snow from branches until limbs can be gently lifted and shaken. Do not attempt to pull branches out from under heavy accumulations of snow.

-Broken branches should be pruned away to remove jagged, torn limbs as soon as the snow has melted and damage can be assessed.

-Where branches have broken close to a trunk, use thinning cuts to remove broken limbs back to the branch collar at the trunk.

-In situations where only the branch ends have broken, limbs can be cut back to a side branch that is no smaller than 1/3 of the diameter of the broken limb. The side branch will become the new leader. 

-Holes that are opened in the canopy will spur new growth in response to increased light exposure and in some cases, will fill with new growth within a couple of years. 

“Where branches have ripped away bark from the trunk of the trees, you may be able to make a clean cut of the torn bark and broken branch and see if the cambium layer will produce new growth to cover the wound, but in severe cases, a new cut of the branch or trunk will be needed below the level of the damaged bark,” explains Conrad.  

Conrad says that home landscape gardeners should exercise caution when pruning away damaged trees and exercise extreme care when removing branches that may be hung up or still attached in the tree. Use of power equipment such as chain saws by non-professionals should only be attempted while standing on the ground. 

For more information, Virginia Tech offers guides for pruning deciduous and evergreen woody shrubs and trees can be found here along with pruning calendars that provide optimal times for pruning specific plants.    

Pre-recorded classes on pruning and other subjects are available at the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia website at www.mgnv.org. Questions about pruning and other plant care can be addressed to the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk via email at mgarlalex@gmail.com or by phone at 703-228-6414.

About Conrad
Kirsten Ann Conrad is an agriculture natural resource agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is an educational outreach program of Virginia's land-grant universities: Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and a part of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. The program strives to improve the well-being of Virginians and increase producers' profitability through programs that help put research-based knowledge to work in people's lives.

To secure an interview with Conrad, contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at sandrea@vt.edu or 703-399-9494.

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