A GROWING CONCERN: Damaging ice and snow ahead

THURSDAY AS I looked through frosted windows on my work van, I contemplated just how gorgeous it is here on the Peninsula, seeing wetlands greeting Jack Frost with steam rising and November fog in patches of low-lying areas this week.

Warming up the vehicle as I loaded more wood into the fire place, I prepared to pick up very large Christmas trees from Steve Johnson, owner of Lazy J Tree Farm in Agnew, which he is donating to the Winter Ice Village being erected in the lower parking lot in downtown Port Angeles.

The thought of frost and large sheets of ice have me realizing that snow usually greats us here on the Peninsula in November, closing down Morse Creek dip after the 2010 election.

In fact, we lost the famous Galloping Gertie bridge in a storm on November 7, 1940 a mere 78 years ago, when strong winds won an engineering battle on the Tacoma Narrows bridge, altering the mathematical calculations for all subsequent bridge designs.

Soon, just like my hometown gardeners here, we must contend with the damages caused by snow and ice breakage on our cherished plants.

First and foremost, one must cut away damaged, broken, twisted branches and limbs, but take caution.

When snow first begins to fall, the prudent gardener can go outside and gently push or prod the branches, thus knocking off the damaging live weight of snow (in engineering it is called snow loads).

Never, ever do this when ice is involved.

Whacking ice off branches destroys far more of the tree than if you just let it melt naturally. Cold equals brittle.

Very cold conditions when coupled with snow can also be hazardous to your snow-covered trees. Think of the collapsed buildings in the 1996 snow-then-rain event, here in Port Angeles, that destroyed Truck Town and the old DSHS building over by Angeles Furniture on First Street.

When temperatures dive into the 20 degree range, the limbs become brittle. Removing the snow can cause numerous laterals, growth of one year or less, to snap off.

The first rule is to remove snow very carefully, every few inches of accumulation as it falls, as soon as it falls.

But what should one do when the shrubs and bushes lay crippled, cracked and broken?

As always at anytime of the year, one should repair and remove storm damage soon after it is noticed.

Twisted, cracked branches can manifest into a variety of problems as insects and disease move into the sugared, nutrient-rich, sap-extruding wound.

The gnarled branches can also strip more bark away as it falls, ripping though more of the tree.

Then the wind can whip the branches around, breaking off buds, leaves and stems of neighboring plant parts, too.

So proceed by reaching for your equipment — ladder, saws and pruners. In the snow and ice, remember safety first.

Start by cutting away pieces of the broken limb and removing them, keeping in mind that a large piece of snow-laden bush can break many branches as it crashes to the ground.

Next you will prune or cut the stem, branch or limb at the break and remove it carefully from the tree.

Then the precision cuts remain.

You do not want to leave a jagged horn, nor do you want a weird growing stub.

A horn cut a inches above a node (an area on the plant where new growth forms) will not sprout anew and will actually die back slowly into the heartwood of the plant, which is worse than the original damage.

In many plants, however, a stub of a foot or two that is cut at a node will grow numerous new branches that will grow up through the plant. This is not the desirable growth and means a thinning cut is next required.

A thinning cut removes a branch or stem at the point it radiates from another branch, stem or main trunk.

Be careful. If you do not make a deep undercut first, you will further damage the plant by tearing away a long slender strip of bark along the bottom side of the branch down the trunk or primary limb when the cut branches tears away, falling to the ground.

An undercut is made at the base of the branch to be cut away, and is a deep upward cut with a saw curving around the whole bottom third of the branch.

After the undercut, you align the saw up on the top side, and cut through the branch, meeting up with the lower, previous cut.

Perennials and ornamental plants are basically OK, as the snow insulates them from the cold.

From bridge designs to gardening designs, we all must change our equations in life after mother nature has her way, forcing us to take a second look in our ever-changing Peninsula landscape.

Also, happy Veterans Day to all those who have served.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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