Protect property from winter damage

Lee's Summit JournalFebruary 13, 2014 

There’s nothing much prettier than a snowy winter wonderland, and again this winter we’ve experienced an unusually heavy snowfall. Once the driveway is cleared, there are other steps you can take to protect property from winter damage. Snow and ice can damage roofs, knock down trees and power lines, and harm shrubs.

Last winter, heavy snow loads collapsed at least two buildings in this area. If possible, property owners should carefully remove heavy snow from at least the lower 3-4 feet of the roof to avoid the damage caused by “ice dams” which form if snow thaws and refreezes before it can drain. Gutters should have been cleaned in the fall; if not, you may need to climb up (carefully!) and remove debris so water can drain quickly. A few years ago, we experienced water stains on our ceiling caused by ice pushing up under the shingles in the ditch of the roof, melting into the attic and eventually wetting the ceiling below. After costly repairs, we learned to use a rake and carefully loosen and drag down some of the snow.

If the downspouts are open, check the lower end to be sure your shrubs aren’t being buried in ice. If it’s too late, it may be best to carefully break ice loose, especially if evergreens are involved. Other shrubs may be able to bounce back or may need to be pruned after things thaw out.

If you have window wells or doorways that collect heavy snow, there’s a danger of seepage into the house. It’s best to shovel it out rather than risk damage.

Any containers, including bird baths and fountains, should be covered or insulated to keep accumulated water from freezing and breaking them. Large snow drifts and deep snow may provide cover for small animals to cause damage to low plants, and hungry mice and rabbits may use snow to scale fences and reach higher up stems to nibble.

Heavy snow buildup in trees may melt without a problem, but if it’s bending branches you may be able to carefully sweep it out from below or shake the branches gently. Don’t let a limb or a chunk of ice fall on you, though!

Probably the worst damage to plants is caused by compacted snow that has been blown or shoveled into piles atop them. And of course, when salt is used to melt snow and ice, it can damage your plants. Sand or clay-based kitty litter would be safer choices.

In most cases, snow is nothing to fear in the garden. It’s a great insulator and it will supply much-needed water to the soil. More birds will visit your feeders in search of nourishment. Roses are said to flower better after a hard winter, and pears and apples will set more fruit because of the nitrogen captured by the falling snow. Maybe that’s why Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening calls snow the “poor man’s fertilizer.” We might as well look for the positives!


Carol Rothwell is a member of the LS Beautification Commission and is a Lee’s Summit resident.

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