Dealing With Snow Damaged Plants

— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson

Now that we’ve had a heavy snow event you may have some plant damage to clean up. The first step is to assess the damage done and decide what steps should be taken and by whom.

Many tree and shrub branches may simply be bent over by the weight of snow and ice. If branches are not broken, give them a few weeks to spring back into place before deciding whether or not to prune. If you notice plants with damage that are the responsibility of the city or town you live in (those along roads in right of ways that overhang streets and sidewalks), report the damage to the department that handles tree care. For removal of downed trees and shrubs or repair of damaged ones, decide if you will do the work yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Pruning work can be hazardous and a tree care company should be used when plants are large and require climbing or use of a chain saw, a tree is leaning, large limbs are split and broken but still attached, you don’t have the proper tools or ability to do the work, or when wires are involved or structures are endangered. When selecting someone to remove or prune storm damaged trees and shrubs, make sure you use professionals who are established and insured. Always get more than one estimate and make sure the estimate states exactly what work is to be done and if debris removal, stump grinding, and cleanup are included.

Removing jagged remains of broken limbs is the most common repair to plants after storms. The basic principles of pruning apply to storm damaged plants. Cut back to a lateral or side branch or bud, or back to live, healthy wood. Do not make cuts immediately below a break. Cut broken branches back to where they join the next largest branch or trunk.

At the base of every branch is a collar or swollen area that contains a chemical zone which inhibits decay in the trunk. If the collar of the branch is removed, the chances of the trunk becoming infected by decay are greatly increased. When pruning to remove entire branches do not make flush cuts with the trunk, make them just outside the branch collar. The branch collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch that sometimes has a bark ridge. When pruning also think about removing limbs opposite broken ones for aesthetic reasons and to maintain good tree balance.

Partially uprooted trees less than 25 feet in height may be saved. They should be straightened as soon as possible while the soil is still wet. Begin by removing soil on the uprooted side so the root system will fit. Straighten the tree being careful not to break additional roots. Once the tree is upright, anchor using 2 to 3 guy lines attached 1/3 to 1/2 the height of the tree and spaced evenly around the tree. Replace soil, tamp, and water well to remove air space around the roots. Partially uprooted trees may benefit from application of fertilizer high in phosphorus if soils are low in phosphorous, which is actually very rare in our area. Only apply phosphorus if you know your soil is lacking it.

The form of conifers can be destroyed if the top was broken out. You may restore the form by training a top branch to become the new leader. Select a good long branch near the top and carefully bend it up and tie it to a pole. Check periodically to make sure ties are not cutting into the leader and remove the pole in a year or two.

Hopefully you have not experienced damage to plants on your property but if you have, maybe this article will give you an idea of where to start or will prepare you for future storms. I know I have several plants to survey this weekend and make decisions on I have enough time between other weekend activities. If you have questions related to home gardening contact the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 902-1705. Messages may be left at any time. Volunteers staff the office and return phone calls on Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. through February. You can also email questions to Find out more about our gardening news and events at If you want to learn more about pruning we will be holding a pruning workshop on February 11 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Pitt County Agricultural Center and Arboretum located at 403 Government Circle in Greenville. Be prepared to be inside for an introduction and outside for demonstration if weather permits. Register by calling 902-1709 by February 7 with name and phone number.