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One could easily get carried away with assumptions about damage and winter kill to perennials, trees, shrubs and turf after our once-in-a-decade extreme winter. But let’s not be hasty.

There were positive aspects to the snow (especially now, in hindsight, when we aren’t trudging through it wearing six layers of clothing). Plants received more moisture from snow than we’ve had in several winters. Melting snow soaked roots just as plants began to emerge from dormancy.

Another good thing about the snow was it covered the soil – and perennials, even smaller shrubs – offering some protection when temperatures dipped down to frigid territory. Because snow is composed primarily of air, it acts as insulation. Deep snow also protected plants from those bitter winter winds that usually dry out flower and leaf buds.

Unfortunately, there are some down sides. Snow may have created hazardous conditions for plants. The same deep layer of snow that protected plants from wind also provided cover for voles, those mouse lookalikes that burrowed under snow and nibbled unseen on bark. Snow also gave rabbits a boost up so they could nibble higher up on plant material.

Salt that had been spread over ice and snow might cause problems as well. In areas where salt dissolved into the soil as the snow melted, it may have harmed roots.

Long-term snow cover this past winter caused snow mold in many turf areas. Particularly susceptible areas were those where a) turf height was left tall in the fall (3 inches or higher); b) large drifts of snow sat for weeks and/or c) areas had compaction from foot traffic. No fungicide treatment is necessary or helpful with snow mold. The best approach is to rake up the damaged turf and then lightly fertilize to encourage new growth.

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In general, plants hardy to eastern Nebraska that were healthy going into winter should be fine.

So, be patient. A deciduous tree that does not leaf out “on time” may not be dead. The primary leaf buds may have been injured by the cold, but secondary buds could open later. Give it a couple months before you decide whether to remove it.

Similarly, give evergreens time to recover if needles are brown (unless it is a Scotch pine that has died from pine wilt – that tree should be removed by May 1). Brown needles on the east or south side of an evergreen may be the result of bitter cold winds. Buds on those branches could eventually open and fill in.

Many of us needed to regroup after experiencing last winter, so let’s give plants a chance, too. Try waiting until after Memorial Day before making any permanent replacement decisions.

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Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.


L Magazine editor

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