GARDENING: How to handle ice or snow damage to your plants

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

All eyes have been on the storm forecasted for Ohio this week. As my column is prepped for publication snow and ice were expected and the entire state was scheduled to be under a winter storm warning through 7 a.m. Friday.

All week long I have been thinking about the resulting damage to plants from ice and snow – it’s never good when we have ice and sleet and rarely good when there is a lot of heavy wet snow.

Here is a quick primer for those in the Miami Valley area and it all depends on what you ended up receiving from this storm.

First, when it snows, as snow begins to build, periodically GENTLY knock it off evergreens. These are extremely sensitive to heavy snow loads.

Branches will droop and even break when snow load is heavy. Use a broom and gently knock the snow off, hoping that the branches pop back up into place.

If it’s ice, you just wait and see. If there is a heavy layer of ice on the branches, it may be more detrimental to remove the ice because of potential damage to the branch.

The best thing to do with ice on your evergreens and other plants is to wait and see. If the branch structure is good on deciduous trees, it will withstand some ice. If not, there will be breakage.

Upright arborvitaes and other upright evergreens are susceptible to ice, snow and drooping branches. If the branches don’t pop back up into an upright position, don’t bend or force them.

Wait until warmer weather or until the branches are pliable and easily moved without damage. Prop them up or tie them to other stronger upright branches using the proper materials.

Don’t use wire, string, roping, or something that eventually cuts into the bark of the branch. I use an old rubber hose with wire running through it. I can twist the wire on the outside of the hose to hold it in place.

And DON’T leave it in place for more than one season. As the branches grow, even the rubber hose eventually cuts into the bark, girdling the branch.

You will know if this works by the end of the growing season when you remove the rubber hose. Either the branch hardened off back into place or it’s droopy forever. Then you must decide to either leave it there or prune it off.

I have three beautiful upright Austrian pines that are approximately 20 feet tall. They are in my perennial bed and create a nice backdrop for ornamental grasses.

A heavy snow we had a few years ago caused one of the upright branches, approximately eight feet long, to droop to the ground. Several other branches were dropping, but not to this extent.

Those “minor droopers” popped back into shape after a month or so, however, the “major drooper” did not.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Now, what I should have done was take my advice from the beginning and propped up the branch or anchored it back into the tree with the rubber hose.

But I didn’t. Today I have an eight-foot horizontal evergreen branch sticking out into the middle of the grasses, and about two feet of growth on the tip that has turned upright. It looks a bit funny but it was great to see what happened after doing nothing!

I hope as you read this you don’t have too much damage in your landscape.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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