Winter Injury On Woody Plants

Severe winter weather, particularly weather that encompasses wild fluctuations between extreme cold and mild temperatures, is often responsible for extensive damage to woody shrubs and trees; especially evergreens such as holly, rhododendron, cherry-laurel and azalea. As the spring progresses, you may also notice damage to certain deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas.

The fact that many (even well-established) plants have been stressed and weakened by numerous droughts over the last several years compounds the problem. There are several things that you can do to help rejuvenate these plants, and get them back on the road to good health.

1. Be PATIENT! - Even badly winter-burned plants will often make a remarkable recovery, even if you do nothing more than give them some time. Often by early summer they will look dramatically better. They simply need time to push out an initial flush of new leaf-growth.

2. Analyze - Just because the leaves of your evergreens might be badly damaged doesn't mean that your plant is dead or dying! It's important to check the health of the stems. To do this gently scratch the surface bark on several of the upper twigs, and check for healthy, green tissue. Good green color indicated healthy tissue and thus a good chance for regrowth.

3. Fertilize - The best way for you to help your plants is to give them a boost of nutrients to help strengthen and re-energize them.

A. Between January and Mid-April you can use any good quality organic fertilizer.

B. Between early April and mid June, you might consider a more quick-release fertilizer, such as 10-10-10-or 5-10-5.

C. Another "quick - fix" solution would be to use a water -soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro, diluted with water in a large bucket and slowly poured around the base of the plant. This solution can quickly help improve the vigor and health of your plants. This can be applied anytime between April and mid-June.

D. You might even consider using techniques both "A" and "C" for severely damaged or stressed plants.

4. Prune - By mid to late April, dead branches will make themselves very apparent. Carefully prune out all dead and dying wood to help reduce the potential spread of diseases and insects.

5. Monitor- Occasionally inspect your plants through the growing season for insect or disease problems. Stressed plants are much more prone to these problems than healthy specimens. Prompt treatment of pest and disease problems is crucial.

6. Water - as moist as the soil might be from October through May, it's very important to make sure that your plants are getting enough water during the dry summer months. Newly installed plants are very prone to stress caused by lack of water. Even old, well-established plants can be stressed and severely weakened by drought damage. This weakness can magnify winter damage, and pest and disease problems.


7. SALT DAMAGE -  Many plants and trees planted in areas roadside can be heavily damaged due to the salt dispensed from snow plows; likewise, plants located near pedestrian walkways are prone to damage from salt crystals. Salt can be particularly injurious to plants and trees—even if salt doesn’t directly contact a plant, a diluted salt & snow mixture splashed onto the soil around the plants can be damaging or lethal.

Follow the suggestions above in an attempt to revive salt damaged plants. 

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