Diana Alfuth, UWEX Horticulture Educator
Each winter brings challenges for our outdoor landscapes, and when spring comes, we find “winter injury” on lawns and other plants. Some of these problems can be avoided with proper winter maintenance.
Be careful when shoveling, plowing or blowing snow so that it doesn’t land on tree or shrub branches and crack them. Frozen branches can be easily damaged, and that damage can ruin the plant’s structure forever. If branches are hanging low due to heavy snow or ice buildup, you can usually leave them alone and the ice and snow will come off on its own. If you are concerned about the weight, take a broom handle and gently tap the branches to dislodge some of the ice or snow. You don’t have to remove all of it—just enough to reduce the weight and stress on the branches.
Also, don’t remove snow from the lawn grass! Snow helps insulate the soil so that it doesn’t freeze as hard. It also protects the crowns of the grass plants from the drying winter weather, and keeps them dormant until the time is right to start growing. If possible, avoid mountains of shoveled or plowed snow, as deep piles that melt into areas of solid ice can smother the grass in spring, resulting in dead spots.
Salt is very harmful not only to lawns but to trees, shrubs and perennials as well when it gets in the soil. If you use products to melt ice on walkways and drives, look for one that does not contain sodium chloride and is environmentally friendly and safe for plants. When you shovel treated areas, try not to pile salt-laden snow all in one place, or near plants that may be damaged.
Once snow starts melting or if we get a winter thaw and lawns and gardens are exposed, don’t walk on them! That can damage the grass and compact the soil. Wait until soil is dried out a bit before getting out there.