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Heavy snow and ice can wreak havoc on your garden long before spring arrives.

My house is warm, and I’m cozy, thanks to the fireplace, hot tea and my new, fuzzy slippers. It’s February, and I am grateful for the warmth because outside, it looks like a cold, winter wonderland.

A fresh coat of snow makes any view beautiful, but a coat of ice can take it from beautiful to “let’s be very careful.” With snow, I will shovel the walk and driveway and congratulate myself on the exercise; with ice, I slip and slide spreading de -icer and hope no one, including me, gets hurt.

Our plants react in much the same way. A little snow, no problem. But too much snow and ice can cause damage in your garden.

Admit it: You go outside and take pictures of the snow, send them to friends in sunny places, post them to social media and compare them to snows of the past. I do it, too. After I get my shot, if the snow is heavy and my bushes are dropping, I gently brush away the snow. Removing the weight from the branches protects the limbs from breaking.

Ice is different. If the temperatures have dropped and rain or melted snow has coated the branches with ice, resist tampering with the plant. The branches will be brittle and easily broken, causing possible damage to the plant. If the stems are truly broken, go ahead and remove them from the plant area. Reminder: If the weather was rough enough to break branches, you should be aware of possible downed power lines. If you see cables near or mixed with your branches, call the professionals.

Resist the urge to prune your shrubs during the winter. Wait to see what happens as the shrub or tree leafs out in the spring. The broken limbs may have changed the shape, but an early spring pruning could take away the blooms. Remember, spring blooms are set in the fall, and if possible, pruning should happen right after the bloom period.

When surveying your gardens for winter damage, keep in mind non-dormant versus dormant plants. Non-dormant plants are often the annuals or tropicals we cover for a night or two during the early frosts. These plants are still in the active growing cycle and cannot withstand freezing temperatures. If you find non-dormant plants brown and mushy after a cold snap, there is no saving them; it is best to remove them from the garden or container and add them to your compost bin.

Dormant plants? Well, they do exactly what it sounds like. To protect themselves from the harsh weather, they go dormant in the winter. The plants are alive, but not actively growing — they are dormant. The leaves and above-ground stems of dormant plants may also be brown and mushy but don’t toss the plant just yet. Trim the mushy parts and leave the roots. Often these perennials are root-hardy and will grow foliage in the spring. Be patient. Given time, the dormant plant will wake up and grow in the springtime.

Do you have a wind tunnel in your yard? I do. The wind whips all the fallen leaves and other yard debris to a particular spot in my yard every single time. Because of this, I know to plant only what can handle strong winds in this area. If planting something delicate there, I must make sure it is protected by other plants.

Keep in mind how or if your road is salted. Road crews take great care of the roads. Living on a big hill, I really appreciate their work. I also know that the same salt that allows me to travel off the hill is hard on my garden. Over the years, I have learned which areas of the front yard will see the most runoff and plan accordingly. Funny, this is also the same area visited by neighborhood dogs; I have more rocks than plants in this spot.

Just as I am hibernating during the cold weeks of winter, so is my garden. It won’t be long before we both begin to wake up and slowly and carefully appear to face the world.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at gardeninginpearls.com. You can contact her at janeellenpowell@aol.com.

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