Repairing Winter Storm Damage to Evergreen Shrubs

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After the snow and ice storms of this past winter, many evergreen shrubs and hedges are split with branches pinned to the ground. Don’t panic. Most evergreen shrubs have an amazing ability to regrow and recover. If the snow is light and powdery, consider brushing it off the shrubs. If the snow is wet and heavy or the shrubs are iced over, it’s probably better to just let it melt off rather than try to remove it. After thaw, take action.

Prune out all broken branches. That said, it is sometimes possible to make a splint for branches too critical to remove for aesthetic reasons. The branches you want to save would need to be fresh, the bark alive and not dessicated. If they are, simply make a splint by sandwiching the broken branch between two or three wooden stakes and binding with plastic ribbon or even plastic zip ties. It is very important to periodically check the splint and branch for rot and binding as the branch grows. It may be necessary to re-tie the splint if the plastic ribbon becomes brittle and cracks or loosen the zip ties if they start cutting into growing branches. You may have to keep the splint in place for one to two years depending on the severity of the wound and branch size.

For branches that have spread and split in the crotches, do the following:

If the wound is fresh and the bark still alive, bind the two sides together with twine or plastec ribbon in a figure “8″ being careful not to wrap completely around the branches which could girdle them.

If the wound is old and the split bark has dried, lightly shave the two sides of the split so that when you pull them together, freshly trimmed bark makes contact when the two sides are pulled together. Bind the two sides together with twine as above.

It is also possible to leave the split and let both sides heal as is. This may or may not work based on the extent of damage but it’s worth a try. You can always prune above the split if the branches beyond the split ultimately die.

You may need to attach these tied branches to a stake driven into the ground for additional support. Ties and stakes will probably be required for one to two years.

Once all major damaged branches have been repaired or removed, prune, shear, trim the bush or hedge back into its original shape. Most evergreen shrubs are quite capable of quickly re-sprouting new growth after severe damage and looking respectable again within one year.

In extreme cases, bushes may die nearly to the ground. This will become apparent as the weather warms and foliage looks progressively freeze dried, eventually turning brown. Before digging out and completely removing them, try pruning to 12″ stubs. If the roots are still alive, growth very often sprouts from these stubs as well as the plant base. Azaleas, rhododendron, Ilex, and boxwood often regrow into¬† beautiful new bushes in two to three years. If the plants are in fact completely dead to the roots and don’t re-sprout, dig them out and dispose of them but it’s always worth waiting.

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