Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Wow! What a snow…
by Michael Johnson
Dec 05, 2013 | 1765 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Nov. 22 snowstorm – Moab’s first of the season – broke limbs from a sycamore tree at Swanny City Park. Sycamores were particularly hard hit, but other trees and bushes also were damaged by the snow. Photo by Michael Johnson
The Nov. 22 snowstorm – Moab’s first of the season – broke limbs from a sycamore tree at Swanny City Park. Sycamores were particularly hard hit, but other trees and bushes also were damaged by the snow. Photo by Michael Johnson
After that last snow we certainly know winter is well on its way. The day the snow started I had expressed my hopes for more precipitation. However, I didn’t expect the very wet, heavy snow that clung to power lines and tree branches.

According to our local CoCoRaHS volunteers, the snow resulted in about an inch of actual water in both Moab and Castle Valley (see their reports at While this was much needed moisture it was not without its problems.

My concerns started when, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a loud thump on my roof and looking outside I noticed, besides the depth of snow on the ground, that the power lines were burdened with a lot of snow. Once the sun was up I surveyed the impressive amount of snow and noticed trees and shrubs bent over due to heavy snow loads. These included both evergreens such as juniper and arborvitae, but also smaller deciduous trees that still retained foliage, like the purple leaf plum, since any type of leaf provides more surface area for snow accumulation. I also saw numerous tree limbs on the ground, especially those of sycamores, but also cottonwoods, most of which also still retained their leaves.

All of this pointed to how even though snow provides moisture to help our plants, it can also cause damage to trees and shrubs. Having lived in areas where it is more common to have snow or ice fall at times and in ways where plants are damaged, my standard practice each time it snows is to go around to my evergreens and shrubs and gently brush or shake the snow off them. I do this because, while snow can cause branches to break, another less considered issue is that having snow bend a branch over from its normal position and keep it that way until the snow melts or for an extended period of time, can leave the branch unable to regain its original shape. If this happens it can leave you with a cattywampus-shaped plant where once you had a plant with a nice shape. If the snow was on the plant very long it’s often impossible to get the plant back into its original shape even by tying it up for a while.

This last snow caused this very problem. I have seen a good many purple leaf plums – known for their very nice rounded shape – and other plants that had been covered by the snow, which aren’t going to spring back to their original shape. Now, is this an earth-shattering concern? Well, no. But after spending likely years getting a nice shape to your plant I believe most of us don’t want it damaged. So in the future be proactive and go out and gently brush or shake the snow off your plants and it will never be an issue. It’s pretty easy to do. I have used brooms when plants were small, then moved up to a long, thinner piece of lumber since one of my evergreens is quite tall. I broke that trying to get the heavy wet snow off so I will find something else to use next time.

Lastly, there are the trees that had broken branches, especially the sycamores, which appeared to have been heavily hit all over town, and that thump on my roof was a cottonwood branch that broke. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check any larger trees carefully to see if there are any broken branches still in the trees. These broken branches should be removed as soon as possible to prevent any damage to you, your family or property. Also, for the best tree health, if possible, prune back properly any ragged ends on those limbs where parts broke off.

Thought for the day: “It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” —Dylan Thomas.

Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at

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