“Snow snow on the ground
Sun is sinking down down down
Trees trees covered in white
People gasp at the sight.” — Miranda Will, “A Snowy Sunset”
This past Saturday we stood by the kitchen windows gasping and gaping as a surprise snowstorm swirled around us. By 5 p.m. it seemed that we were in the middle of a blizzard with near white-out conditions. The snowfall ended as a silvery twilight was cast over our trees and fields transforming them into a lustrous magical landscape.
Scarcely 24 hours earlier, I was enjoying unseasonably warm weather while planting baby apple trees in the orchard. They had just arrived from their nursery in California and surely had never experienced snow. Yet I was thankful for that fluffy white blanket because it would insulate their roots from the unexpected below freezing temperatures.
While snow can benefit root systems, its weight often breaks tree branches, especially those of pine trees and other evergreens. Softwoods have lower load-bearing capability than hardwoods and unlike deciduous trees, pine trees keep their “leaves” or needles year-round, providing places for heavy snow or ice to accumulate. The younger the pine tree, the more flexible its trunk and branches are, so only a slight amount of added weight will cause them to bend. However, that flexibility usually allows them come back up after the snow melts.
When snow or ice causes limbs to break, they should be removed as soon as weather permits since dangling branches can be a danger. Also, the tree will be better able to heal if the wound has clean edges instead of ragged tears. When you are pruning large limbs, always begin with an undercut. Cut from the bottom up, one-third of the way through the limb and then finish by cutting down from the top. The undercut keeps the limb from splitting and breaking off, possibly damaging the trunk.
Snow can facilitate the spread of some woody plants by pressing branches to the ground surface — the branches then develop roots and form new individuals. Snow pressing directly onto vegetation protects it, to some extent, from grazing.
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.