Snowplows are a necessary evil in our corner of the world. After a snowfall, the sounds of snowplows are welcome to those who want to travel, but not for landscapes.
The snowplow operator’s job is to clear the road or driveway, piling the snow wherever there is room. Unfortunately, that is often on top of landscape beds or against trees. Knowing that snow removal is a fact of life in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, your best recourse begins at the planning stage when you can avoid putting landscaping in areas where snow is thrown.
My observation is that most suburbanites refrain from placing a lot of landscaping in the tree lawn between the road and sidewalk. Most landscaping in the municipal right of way (usually about 35 feet from the center of the road) is limited to replaceable annuals planted around the mailbox or hardy plants around underground utility transformers. The trees in the tree lawn belong to the municipality and they are usually very hardy.
Occasionally, a less hardy tree or clump of shrubs will be planted too close to the road. But the more prevalent problem is when plantings are too close to driveways.
Plows can damage plants in a number of ways. The highway department plows can pile snow against trees that are too close to the road. Occasionally, they can hit a tree but that’s rare. The worst hazard for plants, even if they are further back from the road, is salt or other deicer that can be toxic to plants. These problems, except for deicer spray, also apply to driveway plowing.
Snow piled against a tree places a significant amount of pressure against one side of the trunk. Over time, this practice could cause lean. It could even topple a tree with weak roots. Snow piled up against the trunk can also provide a hiding place for critters who want to dine on your tree bark. If you have trees only on one side of the driveway, you can ask the plow operator to pile as much snow as possible on the other side. That may work or it may not.
It’s easy for plows to pull up grass that is unseen under the snow. Municipalities and private plow operators may come in the spring and plant new grass seed where they ripped it up. If not, you can either seed those areas yourself or collect the pieces of sod that appear after the snow melts and piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The take away from this post is to keep your most valuable and vulnerable plants as far away from the direct or indirect path of snowplows as possible. If you have repeated damage to a tree, wrap it with burlap as you would a tender new tree or put a snow fence around it. For damaged planting beds, move the bed and plant grass there, and plan on reseeding the grass targets every year. It’s a small price to pay for cleared roads and driveways.