Many of us remember with fondness waking up to find the world made strange and magical by the overnight arrival of snow. Because we think of snow in the abstract three seasons out of the year, the suddenness of the transformation can still surprise us. If you’ve worked hard on your landscape this year, though, you may not greet the coming snow with quite the same joy you did as a child.
Packed together, there’s a gravity to snow that children think of only in terms of snowballs. But when it mounds up on your landscape, all of that weight can be damaging to plants and structures. The cycle of thaw and freeze melts some snow just long enough to turn it into masses of slush or ice, adding even more weight as it gathers. Trees fall, fixtures break—and repairing the damage is all the more onerous in the wind and cold.
Avoid those headaches by using the tips below to prepare your landscape for heavy snowfalls and the recurring freezes. Maybe then you can go back to enjoying snow the way you did as a child.
Trees & shrubs
When it comes to trees, the best strategy starts during the planting season. Some plants simply hold up better to heavy snows. Planting your yard with the right trees can go a long way toward ensuring less damage after a winter storm. Conical evergreens are made for snowy weather. If you live in an area prone to snow, avoid deciduous trees that grow broad, rising canopies on top of comparatively weak trunks and shallow roots. Shrubs planted directly beneath the eaves of a house are especially vulnerable to snow and ice.
Of course, if your yard already contains a mixture of trees, one of the most basic strategies for avoiding heavy damage is to prune them before the snows strike. Take a look at our guide to pruning trees in advance of winter for tips. Pay special attention to trees with deep V-shaped sections, which are especially vulnerable to breakage.
Smaller trees and shrubs can sometimes be protected by wrapping them in fabric or tying the branches to the trunk to prevent snow from exerting pressure on them individually. Remove the wrapping once the weather turns mild again.
Experts seem to be divided over the question of whether homeowners should attempt to remove the snow clinging to the branches of their trees and shrubs. Some argue that cleaning off branches after each snowfall will prevent heavier build-up with successive snows. Others say the risk of inadvertently damaging the plants makes clearing away the snow more trouble than it’s worth. If you do decide to manually clear the snow from branches, don’t do so by shaking the branch. Rather, gently sweep away the snow; snow that is frozen to the branch should be left in place until the ice has melted sufficiently to allow the snow to be brushed off.
If you catch wind of a heavy snowstorm coming, use strong boards to prop any large branches that extend horizontally. For especially large trees or those with broad canopies, you might want to hire a professional arborist. They can advise you on the best ways to ensure stability in the trees in your landscape.
Keeping your roof clear of heavy snow and ice should be a priority. Ice often forms when household heat escaping through the roof melts snow, which then accumulates near the eaves and gutters only to refreeze when the outside temperature dips. The better insulated your attic or ceiling, the less heat will escape, which good not only for your roof but also your heating bill.
It’s an unpleasant job, but be sure to thoroughly clean out the gutters before the snow comes. Gutter debris can cause “ice dams”—ridges of snow and ice that lead to roof-damaging build-up. Having clean. working gutter will allow melted snow to drain from the roof, rather than building up and refreezing as ice. Also make sure that your gutters are firmly connected to your roof, as the accumulated weight from snow and ice could detach loose gutters.
As drifts of snow melt, the water can infiltrate your home, leading to flooding. To prevent this, shovel heavy snows away from structures, especially around the entrances and windows into your basement.