If gardening ever becomes an Olympic sport, I fully intend to sign up for the snow-swatting event – especially after all the training sessions this winter (and last winter too, come to think of it). When I first began to garden, lo those many moons ago, I devoured all the sage advice in every book I could get my hands on, which of course included the wintertime advice to “Swat heavy snow off the branches of shrubs and trees with a broom.” In my naïveté, that actually sounded rather fun and so out into my first snowcovered garden I went, all eagerness to rescue my beleaguered conifers-in-distress. And that is how I learned the basic tenets of the fine art of snow-swatting.
Start with the highest branches and work down.
The rookie snow-swatter usually decides to “test the waters” by clearing a few branches at waist-level. His easy success spurs him on to happily clear all the others at that height. He realizes his mistake as soon as he finishes them, looks upward, and sees how much snow is sitting on the upper branches ready to remind him how gravity works. He will invent colorful new phrases as he clears off all those lower branches for a second time.
Swat upward from below, not downward from above.
There is a great sense of satisfaction in giving a large deposit of snow a whomp on its head and seeing it disintegrate: “Take that, Old Man Winter!” If the swatter is lucky, a branch will break off early on during this exercise and give her pause. “Hm, maybe this is not precisely the best method.” If she’s unlucky, the branches will be damaged only enough to remain on the plant until spring, at which time they will die back – to the puzzlement of the gardener who naturally doesn’t remember having played whack-a-mole with them last winter.
Mastering the upward swat takes practice. To get the proper leverage and force (which must be hard enough to dislodge the snow but not so hard that it damages the branch) it is necessary to stand closer to the tree than is required for the downward whomp. Therefore, as the snow becomes airborne a goodly amount of it will migrate toward the swatter’s face in revenge. Tip #1: a knitted face mask plus a pair of ski goggles is excellent protection against this; who cares what the neighbors think?? Tip #2: do not attempt to evade an airborne snow-clump attack by quickly stepping backwards; you will trip, and the ground forces will get you instead.
Smaller specimens can be de-snowed via a combination of the upward swat and the sideways brush-off, as appropriate. However, the large push-broom that you brought for the large shrubs and trees is far too big and awkward to use, which means you will need to trudge back to the garage/shed/house to find something smaller. You will then find that you have absolutely nothing appropriate and will subsequently spend a half hour knocking the snow off the shrub with your gloved hands, which will end up wet because the glove cuffs aren’t nearly long enough for this job.
And speaking of the appropriate snow-swatting uniform:
There is no good answer to the pants/boots question.
The age-old question “Should the pants be tucked into the boots, or pulled over them?” has no perfect answer when it comes to snow-swatting. (We are assuming that you haven’t kitted yourself out for this in the same togs you’d use to ski the Alps.) Unlike when shoveling your driveway and thus clearing a path for yourself as you go, you are probably just trudging through the Arctic tundra that Mother Nature has made of your front and back yards – so you’re likely to simply grab your tallest (probably gardening) waterproof boots and stuff your pants legs into them. However, all that swatted snow has to land someplace and at least some of it will end up on your lower body and promptly go South for the winter to melt as soon as it hits your socks. The alternative (pants over boots) isn’t perfect either: If enough snow fell to require swatting, then it’s deep enough to quickly soak the lower part of any pants leg silly enough to be outside a boot. So, pick your poison.
The swatted snowfall is never the final snow of the season.
This is the winter equivalent of the classic garden-watering rule (“It will rain within 24 hours of thoroughly watering the garden”). I have no idea why this happens but suspect it may be Mother Nature’s version of putting the knickknacks back where they originally were before someone else in the house decided to rearrange them. All I know is that any snowstorm that I’ve swatted off has always been followed by at least one more before season’s end. Last year we had three swat-able storms; I swatted the first two but by the time the third one hit, I listened to my aching back and said to the trees “Sorry boys, you’re on your own.” And not one flake fell after that!! 🙂