How to Prevent Ice and Snow Damage on Trees and Shrubs

Care and How To

Heavy amounts of snow and ice on the branches of trees and shrubs can cause considerable damage. Multi-stemmed evergreens, such as junipers and arborvitae, and weak-wooded deciduous trees, such as Siberian elm and silver maple, are most susceptible to branch breakage. Improper removal of ice and snow can increase the amount of damage to trees and shrubs.

Managing Ice

During the winter months, the most serious damage to trees and shrubs generally occurs during ice storms. Large branches or entire trees can be lost due to the tremendous weight of the ice. When the weight of ice causes a small tree to bend sharply, it may be possible to prop it up to prevent breakage. Don't attempt to remove the ice by beating the branches with a broom or rake. This will only cause greater damage.

If the temperature is above freezing, spraying the ice-coated branches with cold water will help melt the ice. Hot or boiling water, however, may actually injure the trees and shrubs. Individuals should stay away from large, ice-laden trees. Nothing can be done to prevent damage to large trees. Individuals, however, can be severely injured or killed if a large tree or branch were to suddenly crash to the ground while underneath it.

ice covered magnolia
The weight of ice can cause a small tree to bend.  Do not attempt to remove the ice. This will only cause greater damage.

Managing Heavy Snow

Accumulations of heavy, wet snow on evergreens can also cause severe branch breakage. Tie up vulnerable plants before a snow or ice storm to help support branches and create a cone shape that will shed snow easier.  

When heavy, wet snow accumulates on evergreens, gently shake the snow from the branches or carefully brush off the snow with a broom by sweeping upward. Never brush downward – you run the risk of breaking already bent and stressed branches.

Snow can slide from steep roofs onto plants. Construct a temporary wooden structure to protect the plants.  When shoveling driveways and sidewalks, don't throw heavy, wet snow or ice onto shrubs or small trees. The weight of the heavy, wet snow and ice can cause considerable damage.

Addressing Ice and Snow Damage

If branch breakage occurs on a tree, prune back the damaged limb to the main branch or trunk in late winter when you can access the branch safely. Damaged shrubs may need to be pruned in the spring to restore their attractive, natural shape.

Last Reviewed: 
November, 2022