Snow-laden trees topple, could damage structures

fallen plum tree on raised gardenOur recent snowfall has downed trees all over the Northwest, thanks to branches being loaded with snow or ice. The problem worsens when trees topple onto buildings and fences.

Have you surveyed your yard to see if you have trees at risk?

This morning I awoke to find my 22-foot-tall plum tree had toppled over. Luckily it fell onto my raised garden and not onto my neighbor's fence or fruit trees.

Snow-laden branches might have helped to topple our tree, which snapped off right at the ground. This week's snowfall seems "sticky," with snow clinging even my wire tomato trellises.

But perhaps our earlier sub-freezing weather, which came with no snow cover to insulate the ground, weakened my plum tree. Horticulture experts at the Washington State University Cooperative Extension say that if temperatures drop into the teens or below, accompanied by bright sunshine and bare frozen ground that lasts for days with low humidity, plants and trees will suffer.

snow-covered wire tomato trellises If you're annoyed by this week's snowfall lingering on your driveway and yard, be glad that snow cover can actually be good for your plants. It insulates the ground, helping to prevent root damage. Otherwise, plant and tree cells, which are largely water, can freeze and rupture.

Providing you can do so safely, you should carefully knock snow off tree branches and plants to protect them.

At the same time, check your trees as you would when doing fall maintenance. Look for split trunks and limbs and signs of disease, rot, or instability. Lop off dead or rotting branches that could break and damage your home or a neighbor’s. Consult a landscaper or arborist if you think a tree might be at risk for blowing down in a windstorm, or under the weight of snow. 

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