Can large piles of snow kill a tree?

aseedisapromiseJanuary 12, 2011

I had two black walnut trees growing in the boulevard next to a road, one of which died. The last two winters have been heavy for snow here in SD, and there were large piles (six plus feet) of snow at the base on one side of the tree from the trunk to the road. I am wondering if this is what killed the tree? It has been wetter than normal, so I don't think water was a problem. It has been colder than normal some of the time, but only one tree died. It seemed to be a slow decline, the tree was struggling for a couple of years before it gave up the ghost. Could a large pile of snow cause the ground to stay frozen beneath, and melt water to run off and never get to the tree? or something like that? I am just curious, because the snow is beginning to pile up again here, and I don't want to lose another tree.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hi

snow keeps the soil colder longer.. maintaining otherwise proper dormancy.. not an issue ..

6 feet of snow thrown by a plow going 60 mph would be more likely to crush the living daylights out of anything ...

being covered by snow is usually not an issue with a dormant plant ... no sun need on a dormant tree ... in winter ...

melting snow.. water.. can be an issue on frozen ground ... and kill a tree if it suffocates the roots.. roots need air as much as water.. and so that can be a variable ...

which theory applies to your loss is beyond me ....

one of the reasons they have road easements.. is for just said circumstance ... you risk all when you try to grow things in an easement where they throw 6 feet of snow ... which you most likely knew ...

i suppose.. its best to lose them now.. rather than see the road crew come by when they are mature.. and cut them down on you ..

ken

    Bookmark   January 12, 2011 at 6:44PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Trees have been growing in treelawns in cities for ~ a hundred-ish years. In cold cities, the treelawn is often a place for snow storage. It is likely that a small percentage of trees have succumbed over the years, likely ones already stressed or weakened.

That is: the chances are very small a healthy tree will be affected.

Dan

    Bookmark   January 12, 2011 at 7:16PM
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pineresin

Depends on how large the pile of snow is. This one would be able to kill trees (and probably did, when it first formed)

;-)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2011 at 8:03PM
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victor5(ME)

One point not discussed her are road treatment chemicals. I do not know if they use them in your area, but they can damage trees over a few years. Excessive salt can as well. Trees near roads are always subject to this problem.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 8:47AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Snow is an insulator. In the north, the grass will stay perfectly green under a load of snow (for example). Snow does not smother the tree roots, luckily, as air is a primary component of a snow layer.

But, I agree totally that the ice melting chemicals are probably the culprit in the damage or death of roadside trees and shrubs.

Another thing to think about is that the decline of your trees has nothing to do with the snow fall, at all. Disease, age, insect infestation, soil compaction, and a long list of other factors can lead to the slow decline of trees.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 10:22AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

right rhiz.. but at 6 feet deep .. not unlike a glacier.. a block of ice can form under there .... and effectively smother/drown things at thaw ... but that is all speculation ....

ken

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 12:19PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I used to have a report around here somewhere on the tolerance of wildland trees for melting chemicals, but I can't seem to find it at the moment, and I seem to recall one in Journ. Arbor....

Dan

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 2:12PM
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aseedisapromise

So, I wouldn't worry about snow if it fell six feet deep around a tree, but this was the combined pile of compacted snow from excavating the mailbox out from the piles, and the snow from the plow, and the snow from the driveway. It was a mature tree about a foot in diameter, so it wasn't covered by the snow. The city where I live didn't use road salt until a couple of years ago. My street doesn't get much salt, as it isn't one of the main ones. They have a minimalist approach to plowing/road care around here. I don't think the roads were paved until the sixties. I do put some gypsum by the road to try to mitigate that, and because our water has lots of dissolved limestone in it. The black walnut trees around here seem to have some aphids now and again. I think it was probably a combination of stresses. The tree never really grew properly, it had one branch that wanted to just grow out laterally farther and farther over the driveway, and I had to cut it so we could pull in our car. Also I used to get admonishments from the mailman about the branch growing out over the mailbox, which he didn't like. Ever since I cut those branches the tree never really did well. It didn't really grow in height much, just those ever-lengthening horizontal branches, which makes me wonder if it had some strange arrangement of its roots/soil that was a problem as well. I think that rhizo is probably right when he talks about the long list of factors that contribute to decline. The spot where it was planted was probably used as parking at one time, and I have no idea if the cowboys around here would plunk a tree in the middle of it and call it good or what the history of the tree is beyond ten years ago when we moved in. I just wondered if anyone had any experience with big piles of snow and if they are a problem. My pie cherry tree was about half buried, but it did fine. Also the other black walnut, but they were planted in spots in the boulevard that probably never had cars parked on them. I like the glacier photo, and I imagine that avalanche chutes aren't good places for trees either...

Thanks all.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 6:00PM
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