All is not lost for gardens hit by snow

On gardeningJanuary 25, 2012 

Oh No! We got snow! Plus a lot of ice, wind and freezing weather. The good news for your garden is that we’ll have a lot fewer slugs, bugs and other garden thugs this spring, and the winter storm might also freeze a few million weed seeds.

Here’s what to do as we continue to thaw out and how to deal with storm-damaged trees:

During the thaw

• Keep storm drains clear of debris to avoid flooding.

• Keep storm drains clear of debris to avoid flooding.

• Stay off of the lawn while it is soaked with water.

• Do not dig, till or work the soil right after a snowfall as it will be saturated with moisture and you’ll risk destroying the structure and air pockets.

First aid for broken limbs

If, like me, you find broken branches from Japanese maples or other small trees lying in the yard, you can try heroic measures to reattach the limbs. Use duct tape to reposition and secure branches back into their original place. Try to get the edges or green cambium layers to match up. This is a lot like grafting new branches onto a fruit tree.

I’ve had good luck reconnecting the limbs of Japanese maples that are as thick as a child’s wrist (the smaller the branch, the easier it is to reattach), but you must leave the tape in place for several years.

The good news is you can now purchase duct tape in many colors. So match up the bark color with the color of your tape casting, or go wild and bright and add some colorful punch to your broken trees.

I once saw a white bark birch mended with hot pink duct tape and decorated with hot pink bird houses and glass pink bird feeders. Not for every neighborhood, but it was colorful and creative, and the birch tree was able to mend the broken branches after two years of taping. You don’t need to reapply the tape. Just wrap it round the wound until the branch stays put and if it doesn’t sprout leaves in the spring you will know you failed. But like I said, reattaching limbs is a heroic maneuver.

Lost plants

So maybe your prize Styrax japonica has split in two or your evergreen hedge has broken off at the base. There is just no saving some plants, but that’s okay. A winter storm is nature’s way of cleaning house and getting rid of clutter. You’ll have more sunlight and more room for new plants in the spring.

Here’s what to do this winter to help your garden and landscape survive if we’re hit again, or just tuck this column away and pull it out next year when we have snowfall.

During the snowfall

Sit back and enjoy the beauty from the comfort of indoors. Then take a look at the bones or structure of your garden with an eye toward improving the balance and structure. Under a blanket of snow, you can more easily study the layout of the design and see where you may want to plant more shrubs or add a garden focal point to give a winter garden a better framework.

Right after a snowfall

• Use a broom to knock heavy snow from the fragile branches of rhodies, Japanese maples and other trees and shrubs bowing under the weight of winter.

• Leave icicles alone. If the icicles are frozen solid, it is too late to remove them and you risk getting hit from melting icicles hanging from overhead branches.

• Do not remove snow from the ground around perennials, or tender trees and shrubs. The snow acts as a great insulator and will protect plant roots from freezing.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at

Meet Marianne

Tacoma Home and Garden Show: Speaking every day at 2 p.m. during the show, today–Jan. 29 at the Tacoma Dome. See accompanying story about the show.

Enumclaw Wine and Chocolate Festival: 4:30 p.m. Feb. 2, “Grow your own wine” and 2 p.m. Feb. 4, “Wine and Chocolate in the Garden”

Northwest Flower and Garden Show: 2 p.m. Feb. 12, “Garden Opera: Divas and Villains in your Garden”

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