Snow is on it's way and with it, the frigid cold of the Midwest.  If you haven't taken steps to protect your yard and landscape from this severe annual weather, don't worry, it's not too late. We've compiled a list of simple defenses to protect your home from those surprise winter storms and the heavy blankets of snow that come with.

BEFORE THE SNOW

Check Your Trees for Dead Limbs or Signs of Weakness

If you are in doubt about the health of your trees call an arborist to come and inspect them, this will help determine if any trees or branches have insect damage or are suffering from dieback, a condition where the branch begins to die from the tip back to the base. Dieback spreads from the young shoots to the larger branches. That is why, removing dead, damaged or diseased branches is so important, especially before the weather turns, as weakened branches are more susceptible to fall or crack off under the weight of the heavy snow.  This will protect further damage from the next storm, and will protect your home from falling branches.   

Prune  Properly

The best time to prune varies from plant to plant. Though, generally, winter is a good time to prune trees. It's easier, because the leaves are gone, so you can easily inspect the branches and tree structure for any signs of weakness. For evergreens, however, you should wait until after the last winter freeze before pruning. Obviously, some trees fare worse than others in a snow storm, and one of the main reasons is something called "the crotch angle of the tree. On some trees, such as pears, if the angle of the branch shooting off the trunk is too tight, the branch will have a weak connection and can easily break under the weight of heavy snow or ice. On some evergreens, if this angle is too horizontal, it will, usually catch more ice and snow, so there is more of a chance to break off. Don't prune your trees while the ground is frozen; This causes the tree to lose a lot of water and moisture, which is obviously not a good thing. 

 

Avoid Topping Any Trees

Tree topping has been a widespread practice for many years, however most arborists know and understand that doing this, only creates more problems instead of correcting them. Topping a tree can upset the balance between the crown and the roots, which usually results in a sick, undernourished tree. Topping also disfigures the tree's natural form, not to mention beauty, and exposes the bark to full sun which can led to being sun scaled and encourage the development of disease cankers. More importantly, this new growth that develops is much weaker, due to the new sprouts growing from the surface of stubs instead of being anchored from within it's limbs. These fresh branches are more vulnerable to heavy snow falls and winter winds and much more prone to breakage. 

 

Keep Plants Well-Hydrated

Remember, plants continue to lose moisture through their leaves, even in winter, so they need water. If plants are well-hydrated, they are more likely to survive a hard freeze. If it's a new tree you'll still want to water it, especially if your not getting much precipitation.  Most newly planted trees can go up to two weeks without rain in the wintertime, but you don't want to push it much past that.  There are also tools like anti-transpirant from Wilt Pruf.  These guard your plants against moisture loss, caused by transplant shock, drought and windburn. It's easy, you just spray the top and bottom of the leaves, which creates a wax-like protective layer, and you're done.

 

 

 

 

Protect Your Plants from Freezing

Cold winter winds completely sap the moisture out of leaf tips, so protect them. Put up some sort of wind screen, burlap is perfect for this.  You can simple make a wall with the burlap and two stakes, or if you think your fragile plant needs more protection, you can wrap the burlap around the tree, like a blanket.   This blocks a lot of the harsh wind from ravaging your beautiful greens. Be sure to use burlap, or something like it, never use plastic.  This can create a heat trap, very bad, you don't want your plants to over heat.  

 

 

AFTER THE SNOW

Don't Shake Snow or Ice Off Branches

This can cause additional damage to your already weakened plant. The snow or ice on the branch could have already done its damage, so just wait until everything melts before inspecting.  

Check Your Salt Usage

Salt is a very effective way to melt snow and ice but it can damage plants and trees by drawing water away from their roots. Minimize this risk by using one of the more eco-friendly melting agents like CMA (calcium magnesium acetate). It is a little more expensive than standard road salt, but it is also biodegradable and non-corrosive, which means little to no rust damage to cars. And CMA has little negative effect on animals or plants. Some people use urea (or carbamide), a chemical found in some fertilizers, this too, works as a melting agent. However, you need to sweep it into your grass after the storm has gone. Another reason to choose your melting agents carefully, is that when the snow melts, or if there is a heavy winter rain, you don't want all of those corrosives running down into your sewer system.  The Carbamide  also filled with nitrates, which you don't want rushing into a nearby river system.  

Remove Broken and Fallen Branches

Remove damaged wood as soon as possible and make sure you make a clean cut on an already broken branch or limb. This helps protect it from insects and disease. Oh, and be careful if you're using a ladder.  Remember, it's winter, the ground is icy, so use extra caution. 

*CAUTION*

This stuff is common sense, but often overlooked.  When you start shoveling snow off your walkway, you sort of just toss it to the side and continue down the line, but make sure you aren't dumping it on top of plants or shrubs hiding beneath the snow. It is a good idea to mark those areas with a reflector or some kind of post.  If you are using a chainsaw in the wintertime, make sure the snow and ice are gone before you start. Again, you don't want to slip and fall, especially with a chainsaw in your hand.

There are a ton of snow blowing injuries, and there really shouldn't be.  Remember, never put your hand in front of one if it gets clogged; even if it is turned off. You could easily lose a finger or a hand from the tension on the blade.