What plants can withstand plowed snow?

Janice Wells jwellsoeo@hotmail.com
Published on May 3, 2014

A good friend is wondering what shrubs will survive snow and salt if planted by the sidewalk along the front of her property. She might well wonder after this winter, but they’re out there: tough, hardy shrubs that emerge year after year from underneath the piles of ice, snow and road salt deposited relentlessly by the street plows, storm after storm.

 Corner Brook used to be known for way more snow than St. John’s. Now we don’t know what to expect from one year to the next, even though it’s starting to look like the occasional winter of no shovelling that I marvelled over first when I moved here from the west coast is a thing of the past. For reliability under the heavy snow accumulations that I suspect have become the norm, two shrubs that spring to mind are mugo pine and euonymus.

We had a mugo (or mugho) pine on a banked corner next to the road in Corner Brook. That particular corner was the one picked by the plow driver to pile all the snow. There was a birch tree next to the pine, with a fork in the main trunk about 10 or 12 feet up.

One year the snow piled so high that I have pictures of my children sitting in the fork of that tree. When it finally all melted (in May), the mugo pine branches just sprang up from being flat on the ground and carried on as normal.

I’d seen mugo pines in Cape Breton practically blocking the entire front of a house.

I didn’t want ours to get too big so every spring I would break off the new growth, called candles, and for many years I was able to contain it to about five feet wide by three feet.

What happened to it after that I have no idea.

Now, a search for mugo pine tells me that there are different types, including a dwarf variety, and that they can suffer more from drying winds than from snow.

I haven’t seen any really big ones in this area, but I do see them at the nurseries every year.

I have a euonymus Emerald and Gold, variegated green and yellow, next to the driveway between us and the auto body shop next door.

The good fellows at the shop plow that driveway all winter so the side of my house is piled with snow. I don’t complain; I’m happy the driveway is plowed and the euonymus doesn’t complain either.

I don’t wrap it and I must admit that while it keeps its leaves and doesn’t break, it isn’t growing much. They are happier in full sun, which mine doesn’t get, but quite possibly the tough treatment it gets every winter could be discouraging it.

Baby Sister has the Emerald Gaiety variety in a raised bed along her front path. It too gets lots of snow but not much salt, and looks good all year round.

It makes sense that shrubs with pliable branches would do much better than anything that would crack easily. I don’t wrap anything, and my holly does alright, as does the pieris and the quince. Of course, doing all right under six feet of drifting snow in a back yard isn’t the same at all as doing alright under heavily packed salted snow near a roadside.

Rugosa roses are reliable in salty conditions, ocean spray or road salt, but I’ve had no experience with how they’d react under piles of plowed snow. Of course, a more dedicated gardener would wrap shrubs about to face such harsh conditions, but you know my mantra: if I have to fuss with it, it doesn’t belong in my garden.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.