Winter Damage to Evergreens

We made it through the winter with not too many problems in our gardens.  The winter was cold and snowy.  I am hoping it will mean less detrimental pests to deal with this gardening season. One can hope, can’t she?  One thing that happened late into the winter though, did cause some damage to some shrubs and evergreens.  It was wet, heavy snow.  It melted fairly fast the next day, but was so heavy that I enlisted help to brush off as many plants as possible before the workday started.  A few of my Platycladus (Oriental Arborvitae) shrubs and almost all of my cedars (Thuja occidentalis) had split with the weight of the snow.  My 18 foot Service Berry had also bent over, completely!  Almost all of the shrubs and trees that had the snow removed from their branches have sprung back by now.  Almost all…My Platycladus shrubs, which are very similar to cedars have some serious damage!  As well, I have a few cedars, both upright and rounded, and a spruce with light to moderate damage.

First things first.  I take note of the plants with the damage to see if they are a species that can tolerate corrective pruning and if so, I determine the best season in which to do the pruning.  As well, some of my plants will need to be tied from their main trunks to the open branches to help strengthen them and help them with the weakness of the open branches.  This can be done with zip ties or rope and hidden so that you are the only one aware that they have been tied.  You'll want to be sure, as the tree or shrub grows, that the rope or zip tie does not girdle the branches at all.  As well, you want to make sure that you are not tying them with anything that has metal.  This is important because using electric or gas-powered shears or saws to do future pruning could damage the power tools and would be a serious safety hazard if the person that is doing the pruning is unaware of the hidden ties.

Since the damaged cedars are being grown for privacy, I opt to do as little pruning as necessary and to tie them up instead.  I do not want to reduce their height or cause any holes or slow down their growing.  What is that saying that fences make good neighbours?  In any case…The Platycladus were planted well before we purchased our house.  They are a very easy growing evergreen. I normally shear them into a more formal shape at least once per year taking off ½-1 ½ inches of growth. I think these will have to be taken back by 18” and reshaped. The best time of year to do this kind of pruning is now (early Spring) until they start flushing out.  You don’t want to have to prune most evergreens, other than pine, after June.  When you prune early, you have the high likelihood of the new flush coming out and hiding your ugly pruning cuts. That being said, if your evergreen is growing in shade, go very light on the pruning as it is more stressful and less likely you are going to get the new growth to cover your cuts.

For my Platycladus shrubs, I want to show you some before, during and after photos.  I think doing this might alleviate any anxiety you might have of doing the same or similar type of pruning.  Remember that in pruning selectively, the goal is to hide your pruning cuts.  My favourite type of landscaping is pruning!  Ask any of my clients.  I am the happiest and most focused taking off limbs, deciding if it should stay or go.  My least favourite task is cleaning up my mess, just ask my husband!


Recap- Take stock of winter damage

  • Assess if the damaged plant can tolerate pruning
  • Determine the best time of year to prune it.
  • Make sure your tools are sharp to do the pruning
  • When tying shrubs, try not to use metal
  • Remember where you tied, to check and eliminate any future possibility of girdling damage
  • If done properly, it will grow back!