Vancouver has experienced the rare occurrence of two distinct seasons within the 2018-19 winter.
Part one was temperate for plants, with new growth poking out, buds swelling and the occasional daffodil blooming.
Then, in early February, the real winter started.
Almost 30cm in five days was enough to bring the city to a halt, depleting snow shovel and salt reserves in the process.
It also created a problem for gardens.
Trees and shrubs that had been happily vertical were noticeably less so.
Branches began to bend and break, and some plants leaned sideways entirely.
Fortunately, winter damage is temporary and can be remedied with a few simple techniques.
This requires a certain amount of foresight, so it is important to be aware of which plant species are at the greatest risk of snow damage.
The easiest way is to assess how much foliage is on the plants in question.
A larger surface area of leaves allows more snow accumulation to weigh them down.
Broadleaf evergreens (boxwoods, rhododendrons, evergreen magnolias, etc.) and evergreen conifers (such as yews and cedars) are most susceptible.
Conifers also have soft wood which allows the branches to bend more than those of other species.
To ensure these plants are protected before winter (especially if you plan to leave for holiday at some point), an easy thing to do is to tie up branches that appear at risk of breaking.
For smaller plants, a fibrous gardening cord is usually enough, but for larger branches or if an entire plant needs to be staked, tree ties may be necessary.
Hedge trimming is also recommended in fall so that long, leggy growth doesn’t become splayed under the weight of heavy snow.
If you missed this early opportunity, all is not lost.
The simple act of knocking snow from branches is extremely helpful as the thawing and refreezing snow creates a heavy burden.
If damage has already been done, the same steps can be taken as for preventative measures.
Tie up branches for support where necessary, and stake plants that might be leaning.
Remove damaged branches, but save heavy remedial pruning for spring when the weather is warmer and the risk of freezing has passed (sub zero temperatures can damage plants that haven’t had time to heal large wounds).
Although winter is unpredictable, and you never know what is in store, these measures will go a long way to protecting your gardens.