What does WNY’s Snowvember storm mean for your garden?

snow plow stuck Snowvember 2014 from David Clark Hamburg NY
A municipal snow plow got stuck in the street on Nov. 22 in Hamburg. This was right at the end of the driveway of horticulturist David Clark. Photo courtesy David Clark

by Connie Oswald Stofko

First, let me say that I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are safe.

Since this is a gardening magazine, we’ll talk about what the Snowvember storm means for your garden, but I do want to let you know that I understand how serious this storm was.

It was dangerous. People were injured and people died. There was property damage, too. Even if you got through it unscathed, it was scary.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of you who were affected.

As driving bans are lifted and people return to work, gardeners may be looking at the melting snow and wondering what this epic storm means for their landscape.

What the Snowvember storm was like

Here are a few stories from the Snowvember storm of 2014. What was your experience like? Please leave a comment to share your story.


“The snow wouldn’t stop!” said David Clark, professional horticulturist and educator. “By the third day when it just kept coming down… It was very intense.”

Snowvember from Buffalo Erie County Botanical Gardens
The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Garden has been closed for a week and should reopen tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 26. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

Clark doesn’t have a snow blower, which perhaps wasn’t a bad thing in this storm. Neighbors who had snow blowers found they wouldn’t operate with heavy snow in such huge quantites. Some machines broke down.

Clark would go outside for hours at a time shoveling his driveway– after texting his neighbors to let them know where he would be.

“I never went outside without my cell phone and shovel,” he said. “We got 84 inches of snow. If you fell, you could die. This was a killer storm.”

Clark said he shoveled so hard and so long that bruises appeared on the inside of his fingers around his knuckles. At one point he stopped sweating and realized he was dehydrated, so he made sure he took in more water.

The snow started on Tuesday and, spending day after day shoveling, after awhile the days ran together. Clark didn’t see plows on his street until Saturday.


Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg sustained damage to several of their greenhouses, said Teresa Buchanan, garden center manager. She said that 30 percent of the growing area was damaged.

glass missing from Botanical Gardens in Buffalo
Clean-up was underway yesterday at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens where 150 panes of glass were lost during the Snowvember storm. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

They were closed for several days but are open for business today and tomorrow. They will be closed on Thanksgiving and will reopen at 9 a.m. on Friday.


The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens has been closed for a week and also sustained damage. Erin Grajek, associate vice president of Marketing & Visitor Experience, said they lost 150 panes of glass in two greenhouses.

“The snow, the weight and the wind was a recipe for disaster for a glass house,” Grajek told me yesterday. “We’ve been working all day to remove broken glass and replace it with Plexiglas or plywood.”

In addition to the Botanical Gardens staff, Erie County sent people to help. (The Botanical Gardens continues a partnership with the county.) Today they are calling in Botanical Gardens volunteers to continue the cleanup work.

“We’re working with the county to bring everything back to normal as soon as possible,” she said.

They did lose some plants. Everything that could potentially be saved was taken to another house, but some of the damaged plants may die in the days to come.

The Botanical Gardens remains closed today but is expected to open tomorrow, Nov. 26. The houses with the most damage will remain closed.

The Botanical Gardens will be closed on Thanksgiving.

The poinsettia exhibit, called “Expect the Unexpected,” is scheduled to open on Friday. Since the staff lost an entire week that they would have used to prepare, they are scrambling to get it set up.  The garden railway exhibit won’t be set up until next week because it will be displayed in one of the damaged buildings.

This was once a lush, 12-foot tall forsythia hedge. The branches are broken and still buried by snow. However, forsythia is a rampant grower, and most likely will survive by producing new branches from near the ground, said horticulturist David Clark. Photo courtesy David Clark
This was once a lush, 12-foot tall forsythia hedge. The branches are broken and still buried by snow. However, forsythia is a rampant grower, and most likely will survive by producing new branches from near the ground, said horticulturist David Clark. Photo courtesy David Clark


Damage to your garden

towering evergreen probably won't survive from David Clark in Hamburg NY
This towering evergreen was brought to its knees by heavy snows. “Most likely, this shrub is a goner,” said horticulturist David Clark. “It’s always sad to lose plant material due to storms.”

Everyone I talked to for this story agreed that perennials should come through this storm well. Like the October Storm of 2006, the big concern is for shrubs and trees.

All that snow acts as insulation, so it kept plants safe from the bitter temperatures and drying winds that came with the Snowvember storm.

“Without snow cover, plants can get dried out pretty quickly,” said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. “That can stress the plants. Anything under the snow is safe from cold damage and wind burn. You don’t have to worry about your plants at this point.”

For trees and shrubs, the weight of the snow on the branches can crack the branches.

If you have branches weighed down with snow, you have to be careful so you don’t cause more damage, said Clark, the horticulturist and educator. Gently tap at the branch to release the weight of the snow so it pops up off the ground. If the branches are frozen, they’ll break if you pound on them. Likewise, don’t try to yank the branches out of the snow.

Of course, during this wild weather, people couldn’t get outside to tap snow off the branches. As we told you last week, you can try to prevent some snow damage by covering susceptible shrubs. But with a storm this bad, every shrub is susceptible to damage.

Star Magnolia damaged in Hamburg NY
A stump is all that is left of a ‘Star’ magnolia in the yard of Teresa Buchanan in Hamburg. It probably won’t survive.

Buchanan of Lockwoods and Clark both saw what the storm can do to trees and shrubs in their own yards.

“Mine are squashed,” Buchanan said of her shrubs. She had a ‘Star’ magnolia whose branches cracked off completely. There’s nothing but a stump of a trunk left. “It’s fatal,” she said.

On the other hand, her boxwood is crushed, but will probably come back. Her neighbor’s 15-foot arborvitae are completely bent over to the ground. Many other plants are flattened out from the center, but the flexible branches may bounce back.

Clark had a hedge of forsythia that were 12 to 14 feet tall that were laid flat. About 8 feet of the bush snapped off.

How do you know if your shrubs or trees will make it?

One thing to do is wait. Clark said his shag bark hickory was damaged in the October Storm, but it took six years for it to see its demise.

“It can take a long time for damage to show up,” he said.

When the weather is milder, you can prune damaged branches or get an arborist to assess the damage.

Snowplows can also damage plants or even rip them out.

That’s what happened to shrubs along Buchanan’s driveway. She noted that she’s not complaining; there was nowhere else to push the snow. She will simply replant the shrubs that got ripped away at the base.

Another possible source of damage is flooding. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do, said Farfaglia of Cornell Cooperative Extension. If your garden sits in water for awhile, you might lose some plants. You’ll just have to find replacements in the spring.

See more information on dealing with storm damage at the Lockwood’s website.

“We can only wait and see what happens after this storm,” Buchanan said. “I hope we never again have to think about this type of event.”


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