How to deal with snow damage in your WNY garden

arborvitae bent in snow in Hamburg New York
A 15-foot arborvitae is bent to the ground in Hamburg after the recent snow storm. Photo courtesy David Clark
rhododendron in snow in Hamburg NY
A rhododendron is nearly buried in snow during the recent storm that brought 80 inches of snow to the hardest hit areas of Western New York. Photo courtesy David Clark

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“What a crazy thing this was!” said David Clark, who got about 80 inches of snow at his Hamburg home during the recent snow storm.

The amount of snow dropped in Western New York varied. Buffalo’s Southtowns area was hit hardest while areas in the Northtowns got a foot or two. The snowfall varied in other WNY counties as well, with some parts getting just a few inches.

If your landscape felt the brunt of the storm, your plants, especially shrubs, may have been damaged. What should you look for and how can you deal with the damage?

Clark, CNLP, who teaches the horticulture classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, gives us some tips.


Broken limbs

Once the snow melts, you may see broken limbs on shrubs, Clark said. He has already spotted a broken branch on his ‘Miss Kim’ lilac that needs attention.

Broken branches should be pruned. Pruning can be a bit complicated, so here are some resources:

For more specific questions about pruning, contact the Master Gardeners at Cornell Cooperative Extension in your county.

broken limb on lilac from snow storm
After the snow melts, check for broken limbs on shrubs. David Clark has already found this damage on his ‘Miss Kim’ lilac. Photo courtesy David Clark

To prevent damage to multi-stemmed shrubs such as rhododendrons, azaleas and boxwood, you can wrap them with burlap, cover them with a Shrub Coat or bind them with twine so the branches aren’t sticking out, Clark said.

That may have worked in areas that didn’t get as much snow, but it didn’t work for Clark in this storm. He had created a teepee to cover a shrub, but the snow was so heavy the teepee was squashed.

Bent shrubs

Clark has some 15-foot tall arborvitaes that are folded down to the ground.

“They’re bent over like Grinch trees,” he said, referring to the Dr. Seuss books. “That can deform them for years.”

You want to get the snow off them so they can straighten up, but do it gently.

“Shake the branches carefully or use a broom to carefully move the snow away,” Clark said. “You don’t want to break the branches. And don’t poke them with a shovel! You’re apt to damage the trunk.”


If your perennials are established, they should be fine, Clark said.

However, if your perennial was planted recently and hasn’t established a strong root system yet, the fluctuation in soil temperatures may cause the plant to heave out of the ground. If you see that, use your foot to push the roots back into place. The perennial may come back next year, or it may not.


When the snow melts, wet spots on sidewalks and driveways may freeze over again. To protect your garden, don’t use rock salt, which contains sodium chloride. Instead, choose the snow-melting products advertised as safe for pets, Clark said, which contain calcium chloride.

Sodium chloride can burn the roots and leaves of plants and can change the pH of the soil, he said. Calcium chloride won’t do that.

If you need to melt ice in your gutters, you can use calcium chloride for that, too.

5 Comments on “How to deal with snow damage in your WNY garden

  1. Hello Joan!
    I think perhaps you are one of my past students at The Botanical Gardens?
    Good pruning practice is to remove any dead, damaged, diseased plant stems at any time of the year.
    So you sure can (and should) prune back the split stems on your Japanese maple to good, sound wood, If you can, look to prune the branches to outward and downward facing dormant buds. You don’t need to use any pruning sealer on the cuts. Once warmer temperatures arrive, we can then do more structural pruning. Maples can release a lot of sap in very early spring, so we can wait up until April or May.

  2. Should pruning of split branches on a dwarf Japanese Maple be done now or wait until Spring?

  3. Hi Lyn, thanks for that extra tip. I’m sure it’s tempting to try to yank branches out of deep snow. I wish you a snow and steady snow melt!

  4. All good suggestions. Also don’t try and pull branches out of the snow. Let the snow melt and the branches release naturally to avoid more broken branches.. It will take a while for shrubs to straighten themselves so be patient.

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