Ask Burton: Last December, we had a hard cold snap with temperatures in the single digits. This past week, our landscapes took a bit of a beating from the sleet and ice. Trees with broken limbs, battered pansy beds, and some plants smashed outright by strong winds under the weight of ice buildup. Thankfully, the December single digits weren’t paired with the sloppy, icy weather this time! Here’s some helpful tips on dealing with the winter weather’s damage, from both of our winter events.


• Clean up your trees – Many trees had limb breakage due to the weight of ice on plants still recovering from the drought stress of last summer. Clean pruning cuts to remove jagged breaks, cut just past the pruning collars of branches at the next major branch or trunk. If the broken limbs are high in the tree, consider hiring a qualified arborist to do your winter storm clean-up. It’s a good rule of thumb to never use a chain saw while leaning from a ladder. Arborists are trained in how to climb your trees safely to do such pruning.
• Color beds – If your pansy beds were not covered before the ice hit, they’re alive, but looking rather battered. They will recover in a few weeks, and can still give you a pretty month or two of color in March or April. In feature areas, fresh crops of flowers which are tolerant of frost (such as alyssum, stock, and dianthus) can be planted now to make the beds beautiful again sooner.
• Smashed ornamental shrubs – Many tree-formed shrubs suffered serious breakage, from ice making crapemyrtles bend down to touch tips to ground to single trunk hollies having their tops shattered by the weight of ice and force of wind. Prune broken branches back at the next major branch or trunk, and broken crapemyrtle trunks to their base if necessary. Broken tops of single trunked tree-formed shrubs, prune the break cleanly just above the nearest upward pointing branch to encourage the tip growth in that direction. Regular shearing over the next year or two will bring many of these back to form. If single trunked tree-formed shrubs broke low enough to remove most to all of the foliage on the plant, you’ll have to decide whether to replace the shrub or wait a long time for it to regrow. Usually, we’d recommend replacing tree formed shrubs smashed that badly.
• And, most of all, be patient – Some of our most popular shrubs in the area took damage last December. Sunshine ligustrums, abelia, and azaleas were thinned, or showing bruised or burned tip growth. Be patient! These plants should recover once temperatures warm, and put out healthy new growth. The plants will look nice again sooner than you’d think.