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As snow melts, assess plant damage

Jeff Lowenfels

I see the paths in the wet snow. People are going out into their yards to check for winter damage as a result of the record snow of 2012. Of course, it is better to wait a bit for the lawn to dry out, but I suppose we can't help ourselves.

Let's start with hedges and landscape shrubs. Whew, what can I say? This was a bad year for them. We had a lot of snow and if these plants were not pruned properly, the weight was simply too much. Many had branches pushed to the ground. Some snapped.

Young hedge plants and shrubs will most likely recover, but you will have to be judicious when you prune this spring. Cut out any broken limbs and carefully prune around them to encourage branching and side shoots. You may have to shape the whole plant. Folks have been successful binding some limbs and branches with masking tape or by tying things up. You have to decide if it is worth the effort. Still, what have you to lose?

Large hedges (we have a 15-foot caragana) or parts of them were laid down by heavy snow. If you can prop these up again, they should recover. Try using some of your long-handled gardening tools as props (hoes, rakes and the like). Again, broken limbs need to be cut back to either a suitable juncture or to the trunk. Leave a small stub to heal over. Don't bother with coatings to seal off the cut. They are not needed.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can to do fix any gaps in a hedge or big holes created in a shrub as a result of a broken limb or three. The take home is that these plants need to be shaped properly to handle snow. And some limbs may need propping up if we are to have another winter where it becomes impractical to knock snow off shrubbery after each snowfall.

The best advice of all is to buy plants suited for lots of snow. We obviously need them. Another reason not to get Mugho pines?

The more serious problem, also snow related I suppose, is the damage to the base trunks of hedges and shrubbery, and perhaps even young fruit and birch trees, caused by voles. They can girdle bark and once that happens, the plant is doomed. Try Plantskydd next year. It might help keep hungry voles at bay, or send them to the neighbors.

Speaking of Plantskydd, the tops of many a landscape shrub or hedge plant were fodder for the moose this winter. Again, a liberal dosing of a deterrent in the late fall is always in order, so remember for next winter. Incidentally, a bit of Plantskydd is in order right now if you can handle the chore of applying it. The moose are really hungry and, with the melting snow, emerging landscape plants are tempting and obviously fair game.

As for trees this winter, the snow surely took out a lot of branches and limbs. Most of these were dead in the first instance and the snow prevented them from becoming danger limbs. All this detritus is great stuff in the compost pile, mowed into the lawn or used in the fire pit. Just remember that it would normally decay and feed the tree under which it fell. So, to be fair, put some of the compost under the tree if you don't mulch it in place with a mower. And keep an eye out for limbs that didn't come all the way down.

Most trees came through the weight of the snow fine, but many were mangled by moose. Some simply ate as they normally do, but as the snow got deeper, they had to jump up on hind legs and pull branches down to get any sustenance. This mangled and damaged some trees, pretty high up too. Keep an eye on these, perhaps pruning them back to a node. This is where a telescoping pruner comes in handy. I used to wonder why I needed to be able to get up 20 feet into the tree, but now I know; with 10 feet of snow on the ground, the moose were pretty high up in the first instance. Add their standing on hind quarters and you can figure out why some trees look a bit weird.

Fortunately, the snow doesn't harm lawns. Oh sure, there will be some spiderweb-like snow mold on some lawns. This will go away as a result of other natural fungal predators. And there will be lots of debris on them. Most of this is good stuff and should simply be mowed into the lawn, but not until it dries out, for Heaven's sake.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at and hear him on the Garden Party from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR, 700 AM.

Garden calendar Alaska Master Gardeners Conference: Saturday, April 14. My friends Dr. Linda Chaulker Scott (garden myth breaker, though she doesn't believe in compost tea), Marion Owen (world class gardener and photographer from Kodiak), Patrick Ryan (of Garden Party and Alaska Botanical Garden Fame), Ritz Joe Schult (Fritz Creek Garden and Ace Peony grower) and a whole host of other great speakers will be presenting Saturday. Hurry to for information and to see if there is any room left. Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper. Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome(15C), dianthus(5), Stock (need light), Lockspar (20C). Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel Nurseries: They are open and you must visit. Early birds get the worms. Yard work: Last call. It is time to pick up after rover. Wait any longer and you will be sorry. Frozen is better. Mycorrhizal fungi: Use it on all seeds and transplants except for those in the Cole family.

Jeff Lowenfels