Protecting evergreen shrubs and trees from the winter doesn’t have to be hard. Follow these simple steps to prevent winter burn.
As the snow starts to melt and you assess your landscape in early spring, it can sometimes be shocking, and even confusing.
What happened that made your evergreens turn brown? Are they completely dead or can they be nursed back to health?
Even more confusing is the winter may not have even been a harsh one. So what happened that caused so much damage to your evergreen shrubs and trees?
The culprit is most likely winter burn.
What Causes Winter Burn?
Winter damage, (or winter burn) is most significant when 4 specific winter conditions occur simultaneously.
1. Sunny Days- When the sun is out during the winter months, evergreen foliage transpires (naturally loses water through their leaves). This means your plants are losing moisture.
2. Lack of Snow- You would think that less snow is a good thing. But in fact, snow has many benefits for plants. It acts as a natural insulator and protects roots from extreme cold temperatures. Snow also provides moisture to roots, so during the sunny winter days the melting snow irrigates the plants.
3. Cold Temperatures- Very cold temperatures, matched with a lack of snow cover means roots can freeze. A frozen root system is unable to drink. This means the plant can’t replenish the water lost during transpiration.
4. Wind- Intense winds also contribute to drying out evergreen shrubs and trees. Especially plants that are more exposed and have no natural or man made windbreak.
As defeating as this can be luckily there is a bright side. There are things you can do to protect your evergreens from winter damage.
How to Prevent Winter Burn
It might seem a little unnatural watering your evergreens during the fall, especially if you haven’t been watering during the summer months. But watering evergreens in the fall is the best way to prevent winter burn.
Fall watering allows plants to store their moisture to be used at a later time. When plants are losing water due to winter transpiration this supply of stored water will prevent drying out.
Mulching garden beds is usually considered a spring chore for aesthetic reasons. But mulching has other benefits then just looking good.
Mulch helps insulate plant roots and is an added layer of protection from cold temps. Mulch also helps in retaining moisture which will help combat water loss due to winter transpiration.
Applying mulch as part of your fall gardening maintenance is one of the best things you can do to protect plants.
Buy Cold Hardy Plants
Plants that are not hardy to your planting zone will likely die during a harsh winter.
Play it safe and buy plants that are well within the cold hardy limits to your region. Be sure to check the plant hardiness map to make sure you are up to date with the latest data.
Don’t Prune Evergreens in Fall
Pruning encourages new growth. That’s great during the spring and summer. But once fall hits shrubs need to store energy to get ready for winter dormancy.
Pruning in fall will deplete valuable energy reserves and increase the likelihood of winter damage.
Knowing when to prune shrubs is important for maintaining a healthy landscape.
Don’t Add Late Season Fertilizers
Don’t add late season fertilizer to your evergreens, especially fertilizers high in nitrogen. Doing so could promote foliage growth and interfere with the natural dormancy period.
Wrap Shrubs and Trees
There’s no doubt that wrapping evergreen shrubs and trees is helpful for combating winter burn. But that doesn’t mean you have to wrap them in ugly burlap.
Evergreens are the highlight of your winter landscape so don’t turn them into ugly brown potato sacs. If you strongly feel the need to wrap evergreens then consider using a better looking wrap.
Seasonal Needle Loss Is Normal
Don’t get confused in mid fall when you start to see some brown foliage on your evergreens.
Many homeowners get nervous and think their evergreens are already starting to feel the negative effects of cooler temps. But brown foliage during this time is actually very normal. This is called seasonal needle loss. This is the natural shedding process that evergreens go through every fall.
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