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BLUE BELL WEATHER

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Ensuring your trees & shrubs can stand up to “old man winter”

by Stu Preston on Monday, November 28, 2016 8:18 PM

Winter may seem like a period where there is nothing going on in the landscape, but this is a time when your trees and shrubs can face almost as many hardships in the winter as in the summer months.

 

There are all kinds of damage landscape plants can endure over the winter, and here are some of the common types, how to identify the problems and how to minimize plant injury.

Winter burn

Winter burn, or desiccation, occurs when evergreens lose significan amounts of moisture through their foliage due to cold winter winds or sunlight while the roots are frozen, preventing the tree or shrub from replacing the lost water. Depending on the type of evergreen the symptoms will vary. Spruces and pines tend to have yellow to red tips, while broad-leaf evergreens will have browning on the foliage tissues. Damage will be more severe on the side exposed to the wind. Foliar damage can be prevented by making sure that susceptible evergreens such as hemlock and arborvitae are not planted in highly exposed locations. A burlap screening is another way to protect these plants from wind damage. It is important to keep evergreens watered during the fall and early winter before the ground freezes. There are also anti-desiccant or anti- transpirant applications that your landscape professional apply – this will set up a temporary barrier that help evergreens minimize moisture loss from cold drying winter winds.

Sun scald

Sun scald tends to appear on the south or southwest side of a tree during the late winter and early spring. Direct sun can heat up the bark enough that the tissue becomes active and breaks out of  dormancy, but freezing temperatures at night can kill the active tissue. This condition is characterized by an elongated, sunken canker. Young trees or trees with thin bark like maples, cherry, and honey locust, are particularly vulnerable to sun scald. Older trees generally have thicker bark that can insulate dormant tissue. This type of damage can be prevented by wrapping the trunk in a commercial tree wrap  that helps to reflect the sunlight.

Salt damage

Salt injury will occur on plants that are near sidewalks and roads that are regularly salted control ice. Plants can be exposed to salt spray from passing cars and plow trucks -  that dehydrates their foliage, and they can absorb salt water in their roots. Salt spray causes leaf browning and twig dieback. The symptoms of constant salt exposure take longer to appear – a span of several years, but ultimaltely can cause plant failure. Marginal leaf burn, reduction in leaf, flower, and fruit size and a general lack of vigor are all signs of salt injury. The best way to protect plants is simply not to plant them in highly salted areas. Other options include reducing overall salt usage if possible. Also, salt-tolerant plants can be used, but remember, even salt tolerant plants can suffer from high salt concentrations.

Snow damage

One of the most obvious causes of winter damage to plants is snow and ice. Prolonged exposure to heavy snow and ice can cause tree branches to bend and break or promote snow burn of plant tissue or dieback.

 

Small upright evergreens like arborvitae and junipers can be wrapped in twine to prevent snow from weighing them down. This should be removed in early spring. It is important to prune any diseased or damaged branches before a winter storm to minimize falling or breaking debris. Snow should only be removed gently from branches if it is light and fluffy. Trying to shake heavy snow off a branch can cause it to break or damage its circulatory system. Ice should be left to melt off naturally.

Root injury

Root injury is a rare occurrence. Soil temperature must be around 10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower before it can kill or severely injure root tissues. For roots, a wet freeze is far better than a dry freeze – the moisture will hold more heat and it will help to keep the root tissue pliable. Plants with frozen roots may demonstrate wilt and have weak growth in the spring. Newly planted trees and shrubs can allow cold air to penetrate into the root zone if cracks in the soil are not properly back filled. Mulch and leaf litter will keep the soil insulated and helps to stabilize the temperature in the winter months.

Need more help for protecting your trees & shrubs over the winter months? Contact the pros at ProMark Landscaping – info@promarklandscaping.com or 610.754.7400

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winter damage
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Author
Stu Preston

Landscaping services blog post related to softscaping or landscaping services that deal with living plants.