Winter Burn on Evergreens
Winter can be really rough on evergreens. For one, the air is quite arid. Because they retain their foliage throughout the winter months, evergreens continue to lose moisture through transpiration. If the soil is frozen or lacks moisture, their roots can’t replenish what’s lost, and the tissue become desiccated. Now add drought, cold snaps, severe storms, and and harsh winds to the mix. Plants in open, south and west facing locations are most at risk for winter burn.
The damage is hard to miss. You’ll notice reddish-brown tips, or whole twigs and branches (particularly on one side) will have a scorched look. The dead leaves and needles drop during early spring and summer. Sometimes, entire branches can turn brown and die.
What can I do for my winter burned plants?
- It’s time to do some investigating. Look at the damaged and surrounding twigs and branches: if they are brown and brittle throughout, prune them back to a living lateral branch. If the branch tips have newly emerging buds, you may not need to prune them; the tree may eventually fill in the effected areas within a few growing seasons.
- Fertilize lightly in the spring to promote new growth.
- If the winter burn damage is extensive, the tree may need to be removed.
- If you have any doubts or concerns, call a certified arborist to come by and look at it.
How can I prepare my plants for next winter?
- Mulch 2-4” deep around trees in late spring and fall.
- Water evergreens during the dormancy months (Nov-Feb) when air temps are 40° and above. They require 1 inch of water per week.
- Where applicable, erect a burlap windbreak to protect smaller evergreen trees and shrubs.
- Apply an anti-desiccant 1-2 times between November to February to minimize moisture loss.
- Continue to monitor soil moisture throughout spring. Do not water them if the ground is damp and receiving adequate rain.
If you are considering planting an evergreen, remember: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!!! Do your research – learn what the particular species needs to thrive and glean best planting practices from the Missouri Botanical Garden, your university extension office, or a certified arborist.
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