JoAnne Skelly: Winter wonderland |

JoAnne Skelly: Winter wonderland

JoAnne Skelly

We spent New Year’s Eve in Grants Pass, Ore., visiting friends. While the drive up was clear, once we got there, the weather changed dramatically. Although we had planned on leaving Tuesday, we were snowed in until Thursday. Southern Oregon had the most snow recorded since 1919!

While it was beautiful on the trees and lawns, they have eight acres, so all four of us spent two days shoveling and plowing driveways with the tractor. I discovered a new tool to shovel with, one that was much easier on my back and arms. It was a plastic manure fork for cleaning out stables. It was fairly lightweight, even with the heavy wet snow on it. With multiple plastic tines, the snow didn’t stick as it often does with an aluminum shovel. It also breaks up underlying compacted snow quite well.

In articles over the past two years, I‘ve talked about employing proper body mechanics when doing tasks such as raking, digging or moving garden supplies. When I disregard my own advice, I end up unable to move, particularly after shoveling snow. I decided to heed my own words and move my body properly for the task at hand. I lifted with my legs, bending my knees. I avoided twisting to throw the snow to the side. Instead, I turned my entire body to face the direction I needed to toss or dump the snow. Yes, this takes longer, but twisting with weight really hurts the back. I also shifted the manure fork from one side of my body to the other to avoid putting all the strain on one-half of my back. I stopped often and drank water. I was amazed when I wasn’t hurting that night or even the next day.

My friend has magnificent rhododendrons that were covered with heavy snow. I didn’t want them to break, so I used the manure fork to gently lift the snow up and off. It works better than a shovel doing less damage to frozen branches.

Here’s a reminder to never brush or shovel the snow off shrubs or trees with a downward motion. The weight of the snow, the weight of the tool and your pressure pushing down will break branches and twigs. For her delicate little Japanese maple overhanging the pond, I simply used my hands to gather the snow off the branches to minimize damage.

I’m going out to buy a couple of those versatile manure forks today.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at