Posted: January 12, 2013
But it is still winter, and this season takes its toll on us and the landscape around us. Extreme cold, a short thaw, and inches upon inches of snow can damage the hardiest of trees and shrubs.
The most obvious kind of damage can come from winter storms. With the high winds, ice buildup and snow we typically receive, it is important to prune any broken or damaged limbs as soon as it feasible. Make certain when the cuts are made no further injury is made to the bark. If a tree or shrub is leaning or bent, consider staking it to see if it will straighten out.
Drying out, or desiccation, is overlooked. It seems strange with all the snow on the ground that plants dry out. Needles and leaves on evergreens transpire all winter long. The extreme winds and dry air can cause excessive water loss, as can milder temperatures and sunny days. This type of injury is usually seen as discolored, burned evergreen needles or leaves. Watering during the nicest days in the upcoming months will help offset winter dehydration.
Freeze damage may occur in different ways. If you notice plants looking like they have been pushed out of the ground, that is a result of frost heaving. As soon as the soil thaws, replant it. Be careful not to damage the root system and make sure it is entirely covered. Dead branch tips are indication of late season growth which did not harden enough to survive. Also, because of the fluctuation of temperatures, bark and trunks may split or crack. Sometimes this is called southwest injury. Most often the plant will repair itself so no action is needed, but be careful not to injure the plant as they are vulnerable at this stage.
Common and controllable is salt injury. This type of damage is visible later in the year. Burnt looking leaf edges are the usual sign of salt injury. Most affected are plants along a driveway or road where splashing and runoff is prevalent. To reduce this damage, use much less salt, shovel more, and try not to let snow piles build up around the plants. Salt builds up in the soil and will interfere with the plant’s ability to access essential nutrients vital to good growth. If salt build is found, flush the area with regular intervals of water in the early spring. Try using sand or sawdust as an alternative to salt too.
For more information on winter injury please contact the Penn State Master Gardeners at 570-963-6842 or email LackawannaMG@psu.edu and we will send you the free publication “Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs.”
Master Gardener Coordinator
Penn State e Extension