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Winter takes a toll on your trees and bushes

Posted 12/15/2009

Nevada has officially entered the winter season with the arrival of heavy snowstorms. Although the influx of snow opens up opportunities for snowmen and snow angels, it can be a hassle for gardeners and landscapers. The extreme fluctuations in winter weather conditions can damage or kill carefully cultivated plants.

"Winter is tough on plants,” said Susan Donaldson, water quality and weed specialist for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. “It’s alternately warm, freezing, dry, wet, calm or howling.”

The use of salt to clear driveways and roads can also pose a threat to plant welfare. Runoff water with high salinity permeates the soil and makes it harder for plants to absorb water. The effects of salt can be mitigated by washing and watering plants frequently once the soil begins to thaw. Donaldson encourages homeowners to pursue salt alternatives to preserve lawns and gardens.

“The simplest solution is to avoid the use of salts next to plants,” Donaldson said. “By minimizing the use of salt to just what is needed to ensure safety, you’ll help your plants and our waterways, which are the recipients of untreated runoff.”

Snow and ice deposits, whether they be natural or manmade, can also be harmful to plant growth.

“The weight of the ice or snow on branches and plant parts often results in cracking and breaking,” said Donaldson.

This type of damage can also occur when using snow blowers or snowplows; the snow deposited by them is denser than natural snowfall and tends to stick together.

Proper pruning can prevent the damage associated with crushing snow. Donaldson recommends using a method of horizontal branching to resist breakages, and using wrapping on small trees and shrubs.

“If your plants do have a snow or ice accumulation, never try to remove it by banging on the branches,” Donaldson said. “If plants are bowed down by snow, you can delicately lift up on branches from below with a broom to gently shake off snow before it freezes.” With the recent snowstorms, watering plants and trees may not seem like a problem. However, Donaldson warns that proper watering can still be an issue, even with a heavy snowpack. Evergreen plants are at the highest risk of desiccation during the winter months.

“One of my neighbors transplanted a giant sequoia a few years ago and failed to water it during the winter months because we had what appeared to be an ample snowpack,” Donaldson said. “Unfortunately, all the snow had fallen at the edges of the canopy, and the root ball was so dry that the tree barely survived and has struggled ever since.”

For more information on winter damage from salts and water quality issues, contact University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, (775) 784-4848 or go to www.unce.unr.edu.

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