Tree Talk: Shakin’ in a winter wonderland

Snowfall is normally heavy and wet in the Pacific Northwest and rare as it is, when it occurs, it often covers everything in a thick blanket. In the last half century, these periodic snow dumps have come as early as Thanksgiving and as late as the 6th of April. Schools and many businesses close. Something of a festival ensues.

Beautiful and delightful as it is to watch the giant flakes drift down and accumulate, plants can suffer. Most vulnerable are small scale deciduous trees with intricate branching patterns, broad-leafed evergreens and tall, thin conifers. Japanese maples, dogwoods, deciduous and evergreen magnolias often lose branches. An arborvitae or Italian cypress may be bent into an upside down U or pushed to the ground under the weight of the snow. Larger trees are usually indifferent to the snow.The bigleaf maple in the photograph and other large trees like it can handle the load easily, all the more gorgeous for being clothed in white.

So to prevent damage, the dedicated gardener needs to get outside, as the snow accumulates and shake it off the plants. There are three good ways to do it. Here’s where children between the ages of eight and college come in handy. Bundled up, with a hoodie, you can send them out with the promise of hot chocolate and cookies once the job is complete. They’ll love it! Expect laughter to penetrate your frosted windows.

The trick to getting the snow off is to give the trunk of the tree, or the side of the evergreen, several vigorous and firm (but not violent) shakes to dislodge the snow.  If the shaker holds onto the trunk or pushes the side of the evergreen, they’ll get a good dousing. Keep the draw strings of the hoodie cinched around the face or, sans hoodie, wrap a muffler snugly around the neck.   

A push broom is an excellent tool for this job. With the broad horizontal brush placed against the trunk of the tree, a few good pushes with the broom handle will make the snow come tumbling down. Or, to avoid the avalanche altogether, tie a sturdy rope around the trunk of the tree, long enough that the shaker can stand beyond the drip line of the plant and pull-release-pull-release until the snow is shaken free.

In a long snowfall, you may have to shake each plant two or more times. But, should you fail and a limb breaks off, get out once the weather clears and prune off the fractured limb, making as smooth a cut as possible, as close to the larger limb or trunk to which it was connected. Don’t waste the damaged branch. It will likely be beautiful, groomed a bit, to grace a large vase indoors. With some red roses or tulips it will make a loving statement for Valentine’s Day, when these fade, add some blooms in pastels to herald the coming of spring. The buds of cut deciduous branches often swell up and open inside a warm house.

So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow….. but shake, shake, shake your most delicate trees.