The other day I was talking to a friend about our impending snowstorm, and we were trying to remember the last time such a large amount of snow had been predicted for the area.

As we thought back, it was probably around February 2015. Six years is a long time to go between large snow events. It also means a lot of us are out of practice when it comes to knowing what to do about our plants and yards when they are covered in several inches of snow and potentially a layer of ice.

The first thing to do is…don’t panic! Plants are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. They live outside all day every day, and, for the most part they can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at them. They only occasionally need our assistance if there is a drought or a late hard frost.

As we get more ice and snow, it wise to assess your plants and see if they need assistance. If the plants are covered in ice, it is best to just let them be. I know that plants bend under the weight of ice, but that can be corrected over time.

It is also best to steer clear of trees that are covered in snow and ice. The extra weight can cause branches to break off and you don’t want to be under a branch when it breaks. If any branches do break off the tree, just make note of the area, and if any damage was done to the trunk of the tree. If there was significant damage, then an arborist may need to be contacted to assess the tree and see if any trimming needs to be done.

As a safety precaution, many of us use salt or other de-icers to clear sidewalks and driveways. While this is important to do for our safety, using an overabundance of these products can cause harm to your plants.

Some common plants that are sensitive to some forms of salt include: Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), European Filbert (Corylus avellana), Crab apple (Malus species), and Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus).

Many of these plants will show damage with their brown leaves or needles. Sometimes, the leaf bud dies, and the area of the tree affected with salt damage won’t leaf out in the spring. It is not always easy to tell salt damage from other damage so it is important to know what plants are showing damage and what chemicals have been used in the area. If you can get by with only using a little salt or de-icer on your driveway and sidewalks, then your plants will be better off.

In some ways even though the snow and ice make travel conditions tough, it is important to remember that these frozen forms of water are good for plants. Snow in the winter helps build the water table back up for the spring so that plants can make it through drought conditions.

Sources used:

Purdue University publication ID-412-W Salt Damage in Landscape Plants written by Janna Beckerman and B. Rosie Lerner — https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/id/id-412-w.pdf

University of Maryland Extension publication FS 707 Melting Ice Safely written by Herbert L. Brodie and David L. Clement — https://extension.tennessee.edu/knox/hot%20topics/melting%20ice%20safely.pdf

For more information about salt and snow damage to plants, please contact Gina Anderson, ANR/CD Extension Educator, at the Purdue Extension Floyd County Office. The office phone number is 812-948-5470 or email Gina at gmanders@purdue.edu. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is an equal access/equal opportunity institution.

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