After The Snow

At least I hope it’s after the snow. Today has been warm right through and sounding like rain, every gutter running, every eve dripping as the compacted layers slowly sink.

After the 1st and 2nd snowfalls, before the 3rd and 4th. That’s a 12 foot ladder

Up until a bit more than a week ago, I was in a pro-snow mood. Seemed like everyone else in the Eastern half of the country was having piles and piles of white beauty, while we had ugly patches of bare brown ground and nothing to ski on.

Be careful what you wish for.

When all is finally revealed, this viburnum will be about half as tall as it used to be. Those three broken leaders were due for pruning but I’d have preferred to choose where to cut without quite so much help.

For almost a week, day temperatures hovered near freezing, nights went down to 20 or so. It snowed and snowed, then it rained for a while and then it snowed again until I swear the stuff must’ve weighed about a pound per cubic inch.

Clearing the parking area wasn’t just  a Sisyphean enterprise, it was also, eventually, a mighty long walk. By the 3rd go-round the blacktop was ringed with 5 foot piles of snow, and because I couldn’t lift a shovelful much higher than 3 feet, I had to drag each and every one to the only edge low enough to throw it over.

The area in question is about 50 by 75 feet. The low spot was on a short side. You may do the math yourself; I don’t care to think about it.

I don’t care to think about what I’m going to find when all’s said and done, either. The big triple-trunked arborvitae in the corner of the east yard is now a single, and one of the single’s major branches is ripped beyond repair.

Two trunks down; the other one will probably have to go, purely on aesthetic grounds.

We lost  arborvitae trunks one and two in the second snowfall, so I went out in snowfall #3 and tried to knock as much snow as I could from the survivor and from our precious privacy hedge, which at least at this writing appears to have come through ok.

That’s me gently knocking snow upwards with an extension pole pruner, fully extended to about 10 feet. Invaluable tool.

Note: I have exaggerated for the sake of eloquent complaining. Truth is Bill did more than half of the blacktop clearing – that’s where the 5 foot piles came from.

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  • Susan Scheid Said,

    As I sat here on my hillside last week, biting my nails between bouts of shaking snow off the deer-fencing, repeatedly shoveling the back walkway (forget the front one until spring), seeing whether, between plowings, I could get down (and more importantly) back UP the driveway, and wondering whether a tree would drop on the power lines that thread through them on the way to our house, I wondered how things might be across the street at your place, too. Well, now I know! Yes, let us hope this is over. Unlike earlier this season (see, for example,, I have no fond, let alone poetic, thoughts about snow!

  • ilana Said,

    As I clear winter damage and prune for spring clean up, other than forsythia, what can I bring inside to force or propagate? Viburnum? Apple? Mock Orange? Keryi Japonica? Flowering Quince?

    And is there a trick to get forsythia to take root before it rots and smells disgusting?

    Hi Ilana,

    The apple and flowering quince are both classic subjects for forcing. The mock orange and (most) viburnums bloom quite a bit later, so the dormant flower buds don’t always open before the branch gives up. But you might as well try; they should all be in a cool, bright but not sunny spot until they’re almost ready to bloom anyway, so it won’t cost much extra effort or space. As for the kerria, I dunno. It too is a somewhat later bloomer, at least at our house, at least what’s left of it. (I’ve been trying to eradicate it for years.)

    As for the forsythia, it almost always roots whether you want it to or not. Can’t imagine why you’re having trouble with it, but using an opaque container, changing the water frequently and keeping the whole works on the cool side are all root-promoting as well as being good practice just in general, so if you haven’t been doing those things…

  • Trevor Corbin Said,

    how often do you have to prune that hemlock hedge? very labor intensive? is it possible to keep it @ 16-18 feet for privacy and narrow? I am looking for an evergreen hedge for my city lot on Minneapolis, growing on my side of the property line on the Northside of the house. good or bad idea?

    Let me begin by saying I LOVE that hedge. Then add that I very much love my husband, Bill, who’s the one who takes care of it. There is a post on hedge-making that gives some pointers and shows it in the summertime, , and for specific answers to your questions I passed your comment along to him. As is his fashion, he has provided a very thorough answer:

    “Hi Trevor,
    The Hemlock Hedge was started from small seedlings dug up in the woods, enriched by some larger (5-6 foot) trees from a nursery. The seedlings caught up to the nursery stock in a few years. They are planted @ 3-4 feet apart and surround @ 5/8 of our acre size yard. In order to keep them thick and hedge-like I trim them twice a year: once in the dormant winter period, and once in mid summer. The dormant pruning forces the inner buds to form, break and grow; the summer time shearing removes the outer, sun-blocking layer and thus permits/encourages the inner foliage to better develop.

    If left untrimmed the Hemlock quickly becomes rank and tree-like. Yes, the hedge can be kept narrow. It is important to shape the top inwards to allow light to strike the lower branches; otherwise it thins out and becomes ragged, ugly, and useless as a privacy barrier.

    The other reason for frequent pruning is that it allows for better spraying to control the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, which is now endemic throughout the Northeast. These little cottony scale insects are responsible for massive destruction of Hemlock throughout the area. (more info at )

    I spray with Horticultural Oil in the dormant period, and with Horticultural Soap and/or Oil during the summer, using a garden hose-end sprayer. A few times I have had to follow-up with a stronger pesticide on small, heavily infested and resistant colonies, but the oil and soap seem to work well. The hedge has survived for over 20 years now.

    Yes you can keep it shorter. We kept allowing ours to get taller and taller, reaching over 26’ in height, but then I realized that I couldn’t trim the tops adequately. We hired a tree care company to trim the tops, but they were spectacularly unsuccessful – from the ground it doesn’t look all that impossible, but once up on their scaffolding the employees froze stock still and refused to attempt to use their power tools. Soooo…. I just bought a taller ladder (28’ medium gauge aluminum, weighing 47 pounds and rated for 225 pounds – far in excess of my 147 pounds – at a cost of @ $200). Using a hand saw and pruners I was able to remove 4-8 feet and now have the hedge at @ 22 feet(chest high if I stand on the 17’ rung.)

    For the foliage of the current year I use a series of battery operated hedge clippers. One held in my hands gets everything up to the 5-8’ line. Then I lash one to an 8” pole and get up to the 12-15’ line. A third, lashed to a longer pole gets the sides up to the 20’ level. The top is done with the ladder and hand pruners. It takes about three or four days, working two or three hours a day, to do the dormant pruning (I also do my neighbors’ sides) and one day to do the tender summer shearing.

    Using a hose-end sprayer I can do the entire hedge in a few hours. The normal house water pressure can just reach the 22 ‘ height, but I also try to do a bit of the top from a ladder. The horizontal reach of the sprayer is well over 20 feet. A small back-pack sprayer can also be used.

    There are other varieties of evergreens which will naturally form a very narrow hedge of @ 15’ in height. Your local extension service can probably recommend the ones best for your area.

    The cost of the Oil and Soap for the entire year is under $100. A $70 hedge trimmer usually last @ 3 years. I usually get @ 40 minutes work per battery charge. I have used cord operated 110 amp pole trimmers, but they all crapped out within the first year. (One of the vibrating blades bends and doesn’t operate unless the unit is disassembled and the blade reversed, a fix that lasts for a few hours and than must be repeated.)

    Realtors assure us that this hedge adds quite a bit of value to the property. It makes minimal impact on nearby road noise, but does a great job of screening out the visual chaos of the neighborhood. And it provides a beautiful backdrop and frame for the other plantings in the yard and around the house. Yes, it does take some work, but it tends to keep me in shape!

    Hope this helps: Let us know how yours works out.


    I could add yet more, but this certainly seems like enough to get you started. One useful thing to know about the amount of work involved is that Mr. Hedge Trimmer is over 70. Still (obviously) in good shape, but it’s not as though he’s a kid.

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