Oregon’s spring snow takes toll on plants and trees. Here’s how to help them

Laura Altvater of Portland Nursery was surprised to see the damage left by a rare spring storm when she arrived at the nursery’s Southeast Stark Street location Monday morning.

A crabapple tree had been uprooted by the weight of a thick layer of ice. Slush was on the ground and snow clung close to flowers in newly delivered hanging baskets.

“Summer flowers in winter-like weather?” asked the plant buyer with a laugh, before offering reassurance. “These hanging baskets will be safe and sound in a greenhouse until it warms up later this week.”

Nursery workers covered leafy vegetable plants and annuals that were out in the cold. But not all the snow was removed.

“Luckily snow is insulating, so for now it is wait and see what damage plants have sustained,” said Altvater, who has worked at the Portland Nursery since spring 1998.

Monday’s storm hit just as trees were leafing out and new plantings were taking root.

The storm left gardeners looking for advice on caring for seeds that had just started sprouting, nursing recently planted flowers, and blossoming protectings on fruit trees and new growth on roses. Some people are dealing with broken tree limbs snapped off by snow and wind.

“Broken limbs and downed trees will have to be properly handled to avoid further damage,” Altvater said. “If a small plant is uprooted, it likely can go back in the ground.”

She advises worried home gardeners to be patient. It usually takes three to five days of warm weather for cold damage to be obvious, she said.

Oregon State University’s Master Gardener Program’s Facebook page posted advice by Weston Miller, a horticulturist for OSU Extension Service, to help a spring garden hit by snow:

Branches: Evergreen trees and shrubs and deciduous plants that have started to leaf out and flower will catch more snow than dormant plants. The extra snow can weigh down branches and potentially lead to broken limbs.

Knock snow and ice off of the branches as needed to decrease the weight. Leave snow at the base of plants, however, because it insulates roots.

OSU Extension Service experts recommend also removing snow from shrubs with frail structures such as arborvitae, boxwoods, cypress, young rhododendrons and azaleas.

Tying branches upward before a storm helps restructure them to a more upright position.

new growth: Snow might impact developing leaf and fruit buds. Remove the snow and cover sensitive plants.

Shelter plants: Bring cold-sensitive container plants such as citrus and new seedlings inside until it’s warmer outside.

Leaf vegetables: Cool-season vegetables such as broccoli and lettuce will likely survive and start growing again once the temperature warms up. Add soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion after the cold weather lifts.

Tomato plants: If you’ve already planted warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, watch them in the coming weeks to see if they recover. If not, be prepared to replant them when the soil temperature is 60 degrees or higher, which is typically mid-May to early June.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the National Arbor Day Foundation hope homeowners dealing with tree damage don’t overly prune or pull out trees that could have been saved.

A tree can be beat up by a storm, but still can recover if it’s basically healthy and didn’t suffer major structural damage, according to guidelines issued by the groups.

Owners should cut off jagged remains and prune smaller broken limbs where they join larger ones to help a tree to recover faster.

A certified arborist or professional should be hired to remove large limbs that are broken or hanging.

Owners should watch for downed power lines and precarious branches that could cause injury.

If power lines are affected by a falling tree or branch, contact your utility provider.

Inform Portland Parks & Recreation’s Urban Forestry crews about street or park tree emergencies by calling 503-823-TREE or visiting pdxreporter.org.

Property owners are responsible for cleaning up wood debris on sidewalks, according to the City of Portland.

A tree care company can be hired to remove debris that will not fit in a yard waste bin. See rates for setting out extra yard waste at portland.gov/garbage-rates or your garbage hauler.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

jeastman@oregonian.com | @janeteastman

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