Prepare your garden for the next wave of winter in Western New York

by Connie Oswald Stofko

The forecast for the coming week calls for daytime temperatures above freezing, so if we do get any snow, it should melt. That means you’ll have time to easily walk around your yard and prepare your gardens for another onslaught of snow.

When the temperatures do get colder, chances are we will get lake effect snow again. Lake Erie still hasn’t iced over, so cold wind picking up moisture from the lake can fall on land as snow. And as we know, that can produce a lot of snow!

Last week David Clark, CNLP talked about dealing with snow damage in your gardens. In this article, he gives us tips on preventing damage from heavy snow.

Clark, an international gardening expert, was honored as the Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional (CNLP) of the Year in 2023 by New York State Nursery & Landscape Association. You can find him on Facebook and on Great Garden Speakers.

Keep snow off shrubs

A-frame over shrub in Western New York by Stofko
A-frame. Illustration by Connie Oswald Stofko

The weight of snow can bend shrubs and break branches, as Clark explained in the previous article, but there are ways you can prevent that heavy snow from damaging your shrubs.


You can make a simple A-frame out of two sheets of plywood.

“The snow slides off and doesn’t squash the plant,” Clark explained.

There are many ways to keep the sheets of plywood upright; look online for details.

Tie branches with string

Get some strong but soft string, such as jute twine, and tie the branches together so snow can’t get in between them. Start at the bottom of the shrub and spiral upward, tying it off at the top of the specimen.

tie shrub branches together to keep snow from
Tie branches together. Illustration by Connie Oswald Stofko

Stake and drape

Pound one or more stakes into the ground to support the shrub as well as to support the weight of the drape and snow. For the drape, use burlap, a cotton sheet or garden fabric (also known as row cover or floating row cover; a brand name is Reemay). Don’t use landscape fabric; it’s too heavy.

Wrap string around the drape to keep it in place. Tie the string tightly at the bottom so the drape won’t blow around.

You can layer plastic on the top of the fabric, but don’t use plastic as the drape.

“The plastic will freeze the plant and make things worse,” Clark said.

stake and drape a shrub to protect it from heavy winter snow in Western New York
Stake and drape. Illustration by Connie Oswald Stofko

Buy a shrub coat

You can buy coats for shrubs in various sizes.

Container plants

Ceramic and terracotta pots hold moisture, and that moisture freezes when the temperature drops, causing the pots to break. It’s best not to keep them outside during the winter. If you want to keep them outside, especially if you have large ceramic and terracotta pots, wrap them in burlap, an old blanket or bubble wrap.

If you had perennial plants in plastic or resin containers, the root system might have frozen, he said, because the root system was in the colder air rather than in the warmer ground. Perennials in the ground were sheltered by the soil, which was warmer than the air, and by the snow, which was also warmer than the air during some periods of the recent storm.

“If the roots froze, it’s too late to do anything,” Clark said.

In case your potted perennials are still healthy, get them out of the open and into a sheltered space such as near a fence, close to the foundation of the house or under a shrub.

Perennials and wild swings in temperatures

We’ve had temperatures well below freezing, then days and days of above-freezing temperatures. When the temperatures are warm, then cold, then warm again, the roots of perennials can heave out of the ground. If you see that, push the roots back down with your foot.

To prevent the heaving, use insulation. Snow is a good insulator, but it doesn’t stay all winter. Other good materials for insulation are autumn leaves and branches from a real Christmas tree. (I saw a Christmas tree put out to the curb a few days ago; you may be able to still find one.)

Another option is to create a cloche over the plant. The word “cloche” comes from French for “bell;” the garden cloches were sometimes bell shaped and made of glass. In this instance, the cloche doesn’t have to be transparent or even translucent; it can be opaque.

Place burlap over a perennial, then place a five-gallon bucket over the plant, Clark said. The burlap will make sure the plastic bucket doesn’t touch the plant.

Protect cold weather vegetables

If you have carrots, parsnips or other cold weather vegetables, they may have come through the storm well.

To give extra protection, try a thick layer of autumn leaves or grow tunnel.


Check hardscapes such as trellises to see if they suffered any damage, Clark suggested.

“If the trellis is already compromised and we get 50-mile-an-hour winds, it may break,” he said.

Make sure it’s embedded solidly into the ground as well; you don’t want it to blow away or blow into a window.

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