Survival of the Fittest

We’ve been slammed by relentless winter storms in the Northeast this year.  I lost power for 5 full days, but thankfully my tall trees remained standing.  Only a few branches fell on my property under the weight of ½ inch of ice.  I fared much better than many as evidenced by the massive loss of power that impacted over 700,000 homes in the Philadelphia area.

In my neighborhood, I saw fallen trees on fences, power lines and across driveways.  I felt helpless as I saw the large branches of my neighbor’s white pine crash down on their snow-covered lawn.  Despite this chaos, I found myself grateful.  Grateful for my tree guy Chris who maintains my trees by keeping them limbed up and by cutting out the dead wood.  Thankful for the knowledge that enabled me to select trees and plants that can best endure the snow and ice, which brings me to the topic of today’s blog…..survival of the fittest. 

There are a number of trees and shrubs that handle ice fairly well.  One of my favorites is the Thuja ‘Green Giant.’  In fact, there isn’t anything I don’t like about this tree.  It’s a perfect, evergreen screen growing 3-5 feet a year and staying narrow (about 8-10 feet) at maturity.  It’s also deer resistant and yes, ice tolerant.  As I observed my Thujas bowing gracefully under the weight of the ice, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite childhood toys:  Bozo the Clown Big Bop Bag.  For those of you too young to know what that is, it’s a punching bag that looks like a clown that you just can’t knock down.  The Green Giants are like that.  They might bend, but they won’t break, and once the ice melts, they stand back up. 

I also have to tip my hat to my Witch Hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’). Not only did it hold up under the ice, but it’s blooming right now and that’s a welcome respite to the cold, gray days we’ve been experiencing in the Northeast!

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ in bloom

My Mahonia bealei also fared better than expected.  Dare I say, it even looked pretty coated in ice. 

Mahonia bealei

And I couldn’t help but snap this photo of a robin, the proverbial bird of spring, perched on the frozen branches of my dogwood tree. Perhaps as a sign that spring will come….eventually.

Robin – A Sign of Spring?
In contrast, there are a few plants that I wouldn’t recommend if you live in areas prone to ice and snow.  The first is the Arborvitae.  It tends to splay open when burdened with ice and often doesn’t fully recover.  Another is the Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).  While a native tree, it’s typically unable to bear the weight of ice collecting on the needles and is prone to limb breakage and damage.  Of course, the greater surface area of evergreens makes them more susceptible to ice damage than deciduous trees.

I guess I’d better stop writing now as we are gearing up for yet another winter storm and I want to get this posted before I lose power and my internet connection!  According to the weather report, this one includes three different types of precipitation:  snow, sleet and freezing rain with expected accumulations of up to 1 foot.  Don’t be surprised if my next post features the plants of the southwest.  I might become a snowbird sooner than expected!


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