Heavy snow can kill a tree during the winter

By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Snow is coming. It is Minnesota after all, land of snow and frozen noses. If it is heavy and wet or mixed with sleet, it can really raise havoc with your trees and shrubs. Of course, you have protected the small shrubs that get the snow that slides off the roof unto them with 2X4 tripods and wrapped the small conifers that are exposed to the drying North winds, or haven’t you? No? well hop to it before you are hip deep in the stuff.

Heavy snow can actually kill a tree. If the tree has weak branches like the Siberian elm, green ash, and silver maple, you are apt to find branches littering the ground after a sleet storm. Clumps of trees like redbud or birch are also very susceptible to winter damage. 

Upright conifers like arborvitaes and juniper are the most susceptible of tipping right out of the soil with a heavy load of ice. Spruce and fir are next. Pines are least damaged depending on size and if they are in a windy area. Winds just make a bad situation worse as they will whip the heavily burdened branches around. 

Those “hairy telephone poles” of junipers that people plant on the corners of their houses have a nasty habit of splitting in half when they get a heavy ice load. Some will recover but often they have gotten too tall to look good at those corners. Cut them down and start over in the spring. Your house will thank you especially if the tree has been covering a window or rubbing on the shingles.

So, what should you do if our favorite conifer is loaded with ice? Don’t run right out and start beating the branches. The poor thing is already in trouble and doesn’t need to be spanked! Wait until the wind goes down and it warms a little. Then, gently, gently shake the branches or use a broom and lift them from the bottom. Brushing down could tear the bark that is already stressed.

If the tree is a large leaf bearing tree, don’t do anything. It is embarrassing to have to explain to an E.R. nurse that your tree hit you and that is why your arm is broken and you have a concussion.

If you are seeing spots before your eyes and you aren’t concussed, you may have small flying bugs in the house. These can be fruit flies, phorid flies also known as drain flies or fugus flies. Drain flies and fruit flies are not only in the drains but also on, rotting food, dirty mops and rags, broken sewer lines, dry pet food, cracks in kitchen equipment and the bottom of pet cages. (No this isn’t an excuse to get rid of the gerbil or parakeet.) In other words, in organic matter. You can spray them but, like Arnold “they will return”. Since they can carry diseases, you do need to search the offenders out and remove them.

If the flies are mostly around your plants, you have fungus flies. These stinkers lay eggs in the soil and can damage the roots of your plant to say nothing of them getting in your face when you brush by the plant. Start by either repotting the plant after you scrub the pot, or if that is difficult, cover the soil with about an inch of gravel. The colored stuff for aquariums looks great and adds some pizazz to the room. Now, quit watering it so much! You have been drowning the poor thing. Only water when the soil is dry about an inch below the surface.  May your house be fly free.