Springtime in the Rockies is usually a roller-coaster ride of nice days with warmer temperatures and colder days that bring heavy snow.
For many plants, this transition into spring can be the most challenging time of year. From this point forward, snowfalls tend to pack more moisture, and that added weight is more stressful on plant material.
Here are some coping strategies to help your plants:
Damp snow will cling to every branch and twig and the cumulative effect can lead to cracked and broken limbs. If it’s possible to reach high in the tree with a long pole — such as a broom handle that has an extension — it’s good to gently shake snow from the tree. Be sure to work from the bottom of the tree upward, so that when snow falls from the higher branches it does not add more weight to already snow-laden lower ones.
Even later storms that fall on trees that have started leafing out will hold more snow as it clings to the leaves. Gently shaking limbs in these storms is even more important.
If there’s a hard freeze after trees break bud — either leaf bud or flower — it will normally kill those buds. Leaves will come back from a secondary bud — but flowers will not bud again and this will also mean loss of fruit including apples, peaches, apricots, etc. The good news in this scenario is that it will also kill the seed buds on trees such as ash and cottonwood that produce nuisance seeds that must be cleaned up later.
Many herbaceous shrubs have weak wood and long, pliable branches that make them susceptible to wind and snow damage. Examples include Russian sage, golden elder, sumac, pussy willow, blue mist spirea and dark night spirea.
Any branch that has been broken by the weather — and this includes trees — should be pruned back. Those rips and breaks are an open invitation to pests and disease of all kinds. Protect these plants with timely pruning as a little maintenance now can save more work and treatment costs later.
Most people prefer to leave dried ornamental grasses standing in the garden for winter interest provided by their shape and swaying plumes. Under heavy snow, many of these grasses in unprotected locations will be crushed.
These broken and bent grasses won’t bounce back to their upright shape, so they should be cut back. Cutting these plants back after March snowfall is actually good timing since new green shoots will start emerging soon, and it’s best to have old growth well out of the way before new shoots emerge.
Becky Garber is member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.