Tag Archives: Winter Damage

Repairing Winter Damage In Your Garden

Winter Garden Damage – What Now?

Winter can offer obstacles for our gardens.  Cold, snow, ice, freeze/thaw cycles, wind, salt from treating roads and sidewalks are a few that spring to mind. Most of those obstacles can be readily overcome, but some are more challenging.

Cold, Snow, Freeze/Thaw Cycles – In Other Words, Normal Winter For Cold Winter Climates

These issues can by and large be mitigated by choosing plants that are cold hardy for our area and that are suited to the spot in your garden where they are being planted.

What does suited to the location mean?  It means if you have a place where the wind tends to come whistling through the garden, don’t plant something that is susceptible to wind damage.  Put that plant in a spot where it is protected from wind.  If a plant doesn’t like wet feet, don’t plant it in the low, wet spot in your garden.  Putting each plant in a spot where it can thrive leads to good plant health. And healthy plants are much better able to survive adverse winter conditions than unhealthy plants

Unusually Cold Temperatures

After the Cold has Passed

Annuals – if the foliage is brown and or mushy, remove it and compost or discard it.  Plan on replacing your plants in spring.

Herbaceous Perennials –Remove brown and mushy foliage.  However, do NOT assume that the plants are dead.  Even if you are used to the plants remaining green throughput the winter, they may not be dead.  Many perennials are “root hardy” which means that although the foliage and stems are dead, the plant will regrow from the root system.   In spring, be lazy and wait a bit.  Give the “dead” plants time to regrow from the roots before replacing them with new plant material.

Shrubs – Do nothing.  This is another great time to be a lazy gardener.  Resist the temptation to help and just wait for spring. See what new growth emerges and prune after you can see the true damage to your plants.  If there are obviously broken branches, you can remove them, but other than that – hands off. Pruning now could encourage new growth too early, which can harm the plant. Branches that may appear to be dead, may not be. Once spring gets here and the shrub leafs out with new growth, you will then know for sure which parts of the shrub are dead and can be safely removed.


Ice is pretty much the cruelest thing that can happen to your garden in winter.  The sheer weight can be devastating.  You are going to want to try and rush out and help your plants.  Resist that urge.  Do NOT try to help.  Take a deep breath and procrastinate. Do not knock ice off branches; channel your grade school days and keep your hands to yourself.  Allow the ice to naturally melt.  The branches beneath the ice will be brittle, trying to remove the ice is most likely going to lead to more damage to the plant, not help.

The rest can be pruned to shape, if needed or if you want to.  This may mean sacrificing blooms on spring blooming shrubs.  If you don’t mind a somewhat bedraggled shrub in your landscape, wait until after the spring blooming shrubs flower and then prune to shape.

Trees:  Remove downed branches or trees, if you can safely do so, or hire someone with experience to take care of this task.  For broken branches and additional pruning, it is best to hire a certified arborist to assess and service the plants.  Trees are a long term investment and much harm can be done by accident.  Let the professionals handle it.

Salt Damage

You may already recognize that salt really isn’t all that great for plants.  Salt applied by road crews or on sidewalks by homeowners can end up in nearby garden beds.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this issue.

If you can reasonably assume that salt will be applied regularly, consider choosing plants that can withstand a bit of salt (yes, we have circled back around to Right Plant, Right Place).   Internet searches will yield good results for plants lists.

If salt is unlikely to be an issue, then you may prefer not to limit your plant selection.  The best way to deal with an unusual application of salt to plants is water.  Once the temps warm up and snow cover melts, lightly spray off plants to wash off any salt that might be on foliage.  Then in early spring, water the affected areas heavily to wash the salts out of the main root zone of the plants.  You want to soak at least 6 inches of soil.  This will allow the majority of roots to reside in soil where the salt has been flushed out.


Do You Have Winter-Burned Evergreens? Wait it out, it’s science!

STOP! Don’t dig it up!

Despite that it looks rather devastating, turns out it’s best to wait when you have winter burn damage on conifers and other evergreens. The primary symptoms are needle/leaf browning, particularly on evergreens that are out in the open and not clustered with other trees. However, this is NOT an indicator as to the health of your conifer! The only way to tell is by selecting a section of stem and scraping off the outer layer of bark. If you find green inside and the stem to be supple, your conifer is going to be just fine. If, on the other hand, it’s brittle and dead, then you’re one of the few who are simply out of luck.

Plants that are likely to be affected:

  • Schip Laurel
  • Otto Luyken Laurel
  • Hypericum
  • Manhattan Euonymous
  • Nandina

Soo… Why does this happen?

Turns out it’s science! Evergreens are doing a whole lot more work during the winter than their deciduous cousins. Since their leaves (or needles) are still green, they are still photosynthesizing all Winter long. Photosynthesis requires water, sunlight & carbon dioxide. So as evergreens take in CO2 and create O2, the leaves/needles are using water. Normally evergreens draw water up through the roots to replace what is used in the process of photosynthesis + what water evaporates through the leaf/needle membranes and the cycle of photosynthesis continues. However, during winter months where the ground is frozen, water may not be readily available and thus, the strategy (and only option) for the evergreen is to allow their leaves/needles to die and preserve what little water they have left. The result, as I mentioned before, looks rather devastating… brown, dead-looking needles/leaves that are dry and brittle. Often due to the severity of appearance, winter burn is misdiagnosed as a disease, when it is actually more likely for the plant to make a full recovery!

Prevention & Treatment

Prevention: It’s as simple as pouring hot water on the frozen ground at the base of your conifers on a bi-weekly basis while temperatures remain below freezing. The idea here is that the hot water unfreezes the ground temporarily and allows your evergreens to drink until it freezes up again. Some people have also reported success with placing a thick layer of hay with mulch on top around the base of your evergreens for the winter to insulate the ground around them. In extreme cases you can also wrap evergreens in burlap to shield from wind during winter storms.

Treatment: There are of course some steps you can take to treat winter burn. Two methods in particular seem to be the most effective.

  1. Trim dead sections down to the point where you scrape the bark off and find green underneath
  2. Wait for new growth to begin and allow the evergreen to shed it’s dead leaves naturally

It is important to make sure that your evergreens are properly fertilized and watered after a Winter burn event. Subsequent unfavorable conditions (such as a hot, dry summer with little water) can further weaken your plants and make them more susceptible to disease and increases the chance they will not survive a second round of Winter burn the following Winter.