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Agriculture expert provides tips on how to protect flowering trees, plants during late winter cold and snow

March 14, 2017

A bicyclist takes a photo of a cherry blossom tree on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus.

A bicyclist takes a photo of a cherry blossom tree on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus.
A bicyclist takes a photo of a cherry blossom tree on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus.

Virginia Tech agriculture expert Kirsten Ann Conrad says that cold temperatures and late winter snow fall leaves many types of trees and plants at risk. “In our climate we do not have reliably frost free weather until at least mid-April and even then we can be surprised with a late frost,” says Conrad. “Flowering trees and evergreens particularly will suffer from a late winter snow storm.” 

Background / Tips:

Conrad explains that branches of trees already in flower, such as the Red Maple, American Elm, Bradford Pear or Cherry will trap snow and ice on their branches, buds and flowers. The extra weight that is trapped by the flowers and buds that are closed in the winter, can result in breakage damage to the flower and leaf buds from cold. On evergreens, the extra weight of the snow can cause multi stemmed evergreens to bow outwards and or to snap off. 

“In cases of heavy snow, go out periodically and shake off snow accumulations to avoid breakage of smaller trees and shrubs. Multi stemmed evergreens can be tied together temporarily to prevent bowing and breakage,” says Conrad. 

“Cherry trees and most flowering ornamentals will avoid extensive damage as long as the temperature stays above 26-27 degrees. More than that, and up to 90 percent of cherry blossoms will be damaged at temperatures that go down to 24 deg. F. Use a long broom or other extension pole to knock off snow accumulations in order to prevent breakage.” 

“Herbaceous plants, especially the perennials and bulbs that are emerging now, are pretty hardy. Daffodils can withstand temperatures down to 20 degrees and many other perennials, though they might get a little brown on the edges of their leaves, will suffer no permanent damage. Covering over hardy vegetable crops and perennials with a light cover like a sheet or woven cloth can provide 4-6 degrees of frost protection.”

“Shrubs like hydrangeas that are marginally hardy here and others like roses that are already leafing out and also have a risk of tip dieback from the cold, should be assessed and any dead pruned away after all risk of frost has passed,” says Conrad. 

About Conrad
Kirsten Ann Conrad is an agriculture natural resource agent as part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is an educational outreach program of Virginia's land-grant universities: Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and a part of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. The program strives to improve the well-being of Virginians and increase producers' profitability through programs that help put research-based knowledge to work in people's lives.

Interview
To secure an interview with Conrad, contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at sandrea@vt.edu or 703-399-9494.

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