With each week that passes mildly by this late fall, it’s as if the ominous wave of winter rises higher and higher. If we had been getting regular tastes of snow and ice since Halloween, instead of regular tastes of spring (I recently saw some forsythia blooms), the steady inoculation would probably have us ready to address winter’s seemingly unrelenting grip. Instead, our parents planned our summer travels to end the very day before school starts, and we know there will be serious jet lag that first week.
To add to the problem, fresh in our collective minds is the memory of last March’s late punishing surprise. We remember all too well how powerfully disruptive winter can be.
As someone who works outside and deals with winter’s toll on pavement and plants alike, may I offer a few suggestions to consider before winter forces our hand and determines our response?
First, I suggest that we bracket off last March’s snow piles and think instead about more common winter conditions. While the skills used for dealing with typical winter conditions will apply to blizzards, skills used for dealing with uncommon blizzards may not apply to common winter weather.
Second, consider possible salt damage. Last month, our crew worked at a commercial location with lawn still showing salt damage from last winter.
It seems to me that in our litigious society, salt has become standard faire, and indeed, pre-treating roads and interstates is a welcome development. However, outside of busy thoroughfares, for many reasons, salt should be considered a last resort.
In our snow removal business, salt accounts for between zero and half a percent of our gross revenue. This is because removing the water that becomes ice is usually far easier than trying to melt a frozen source of water. Remove the snow when it falls, and direct sources of water, including downspouts and snow piles, away from traffic areas, and you will hardly ever need to use salt, period.
Third, prepare your trees and shrubs. If we get a heavy, clinging snow, there will be damage to some branches. Since they do not shed their leaves, many evergreen trees are designed to “bow” with the weight of the snow on their boughs. Others, like the arborvitae, not so much. The arborvitae, typically cultivated with multiple leaders, literally and figuratively bows out, turning into an inverse Christmas tree. If you have important arborvitaes, you may want to loosely tie these boughs just for the winter. But remember, every year that goes by, these competing leaders get longer and more vulnerable to splitting out. So, if you can, with arborvitaes (and all trees and shrubs that might be vulnerable to snow and ice damage) prune ahead to establish a strong structure.
Finally, consider shielding evergreens from damaging road spray and drying winds.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.