Mamma Musings

Will Heavy Snow on Trees Cause Damage?

Winter is the perfect setting for cozying up in a warm blanket to watch movies and drink hot chocolate. Snow gives a magical tinge to the freezing cold weather and provides the backdrop for beautiful Instagram-worthy pictures. However, this comes at a price, and as the snow gets more intense, severe side effects start to appear.  From frostbite to slippery roads, heavy snow can escalate into dangerous situations very quickly.  Your landscape also bears the brunt of heavy snow on trees. If the snow is sparse, it will melt away harmlessly from your trees, but as you might have observed, heavy snow often comes with the tell-tale cracking sound indicative of the damage it is inflicting on your plants.

Effects of Heavy Snow on Trees:

Wet snow causes more injury to trees than dry snow as the former is heavier. These are the common risks associated with heavy snow on trees, depending on the quantity snow and the shape of the tree:

  • Bending: Accumulation of heavy snow on trees causes the delicate branches to bend. In some cases, the excess weight can make the entire tree bend. Young or small plants are most susceptible to this type of damage. As trees become brittle in winter, bending puts the tree in a bad position.

  • Breaking: Breaking occurs when either the branches or the stem of a tree shatter due to the weight of snow. Hanging branches or half-broken trees can create unsafe conditions for people and property.  Besides potentially derailing the entire top structure of trees, which can take months to recover from, these breaks expose the tree to various pathogens that can affect the overall health of the tree.

  • Splitting: If a tree is placed directly under a roof or any structure which can cause a large quantity of snow to fall in one concentrated portion, the tree can split from the shock and pressure of the sudden weight. This, again, causes infection risks for the tree.
  • Falling or Uprooting: This is the most extreme case of winter damage that can occur in trees. When a tree stays inflexible against the huge barrage of snow that winter brings, it will eventually either fall or get uprooted. If a large, weak tree, it might be best to have it removed by an experienced professional before the harsh winter weather hits.

Snow Damage by Tree Type:

The amount of damage that a tree can bear depends on the type of tree. Like everything in nature, trees have adapted to defend against this kind of extreme weather.  Most deciduous trees typically have broad leaves, making them susceptible to collect large quantities of snow. Losing their leaves in anticipation of winter is a kind of defense mechanism that protects them from severe snow damage. 

Coniferous evergreens, like spruce or pine, collect more snow than deciduous trees due to the presence of leaves, but the flexible structure enables them to simply bend with the weight of snow and shrug it all off. If not for their flexibility, the snow collected on the leaves would cause the tree significant damage. Yet, when faced with severe winds and snow, many conifers with narrow canopies tend to lose their crowns. It is imperative that these trees get pruned correctly to encourage proper recovery.  Apart from tree type, the tree’s structure also affects the amount of damage it can bear. For instance, trees with branches angled at 90-degrees from the stem function better than those with steeper branches.

Protecting Against Heavy Snow Damage on Trees:

Although heavy snow has the potential to cause significant damage to your trees, there are a few things you can do to defend against it.  Freshly fallen heavy snow can simply be brushed away with a hand, a soft broom, or by very gently shaking the branches. Avoid the urge to aggressively shake the tree as winter makes branches brittle and your action could make the situation worse.   If the snow has transformed into ice on your tree, it should be left alone to melt naturally. De-icing salts can introduce harmful toxins into the plant affecting its overall health, so this should be avoided. Also, no heat source should be brought near your plant in an to attempt to speed up the melting process – it will do more harm than good. 

Try to avoid planting trees that are not compatible with the weather of your region. Some trees like the Arborvitae are notoriously bad at withstanding winter damage; if you must plant these, protect them from damage by placing them away from a sloping roof or any structure that could abruptly deposit a large amount of snow on them.  If any part of your tree does break and doesn’t pose any danger to its environment or to its own health, you can wait until the end of winter to prune it. At that point, the tree is still dormant, but the weather will get warm enough to avoid further damage. Otherwise, it should be pruned immediately.

While caring for your trees, always make sure you are safe as well and not doing any dangerous stunts like climbing an icy tree or sawing above your head. And, if your unsure of what steps to take or needs assistance, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced arborist to assist you.   Although heavy snow can have many adverse effects on trees, it also has certain benefits. One of the factors affecting a tree’s health in winter is the sudden fluctuation in temperatures accompanied by this weather. This causes the entire structure of the tree, from top to root. to become weak and brittle. When snowfall occurs, it creates a protective layer of snow around the tree.

And, as snow is a bad conductor of heat, this layer insulates the tree and its roots from these temperature fluctuations and helps regulate its temperature. And, after it melts, it gives the tree moisture needed for nourishment. So, snow is not always bad for trees.   Reach out to professional arborists to keep your trees prepared for the harsh winters. Be prepared for winter damage with Mr. Tree!


Note: This is a collaborative post
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