Heavy Alberta snow on trees is a problem

Alberta Agri-news offers arboreal advice in winter

While most trees and shrubs in Alberta are well adapted to winter conditions, having a sudden heavy snowfall when trees have not completed or are just starting their growing season can be devastating.

“Alberta frequently experiences heavy snowfalls, especially in early fall or late spring, that can greatly affect trees and shrubs,” says Toso Bozic, agroforestry/bioenergy specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Most spruces, pines, and fir have flexible branches and shed snow relatively easily, but coniferous trees often have their tops broken by heavy snow.”

Trees with a narrow vertical crown, like Swedish poplar, junipers, and many shrubs, and with narrow upright branching, are highly susceptible to damage from wet snow.

“You can very gently remove snow from them with a broom or a small pole. Don’t shake the tree or shrub as branches can easily break. If snow or ice is frozen to a branch, don’t do anything until it thaws or melts off. Don’t use any salt deicing spray as salt is one of the most common killers of trees and shrubs in Alberta shelterbelts and in residential areas. Also, don’t use heat of any kind to melt ice or snow. If there is no significant damage and the tree is still holding, let the snow melt naturally – leave the tree alone.”

If trees and shrubs are damaged, pruning is the only option. Bozic says that there are several considerations to keep in mind when pruning:

Safety – inspect your tree for any power line contact. Look around trees and carefully inspect them from a safe distance. Stay away from the trees and call the power company to deal with them.

If you have heavy broken branches or large trees, call a certified arborist to deal with them. Broken and/or hanging heavy branches can fall in a slight wind or cold and you can be easily injured.

Do not try to use a ladder to remove snow or broken branches. Conditions may be very slippery and you can be easily injured.

Do a proper pruning that includes three-way cuts of larger branches to remove the heavy weight of the branch. Do the undercut first, then remove the heavy weight as the second cut. The third, final cut should not damage the tree branch collar.

Small branches less than two inches in diameter can be removed with one cut.

Putting wound paint or dressing on the cut has no effect.

Do not leave any stubs when pruning.

Make cuts with sharp tools.

“Overall our trees and shrubs are adapted to winter conditions, and in the few instances where we get heavy wet snow or ice you may not need to do anything expect monitor the situation,” adds Bozic. “Always keep safety in mind. Enjoy the trees in our winter wonderland – or, when spring comes, enjoy the fact that summer is around the corner!”

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