Winter damage to trees and shrubs

Horticulture Hints

The first thing one can do to help prevent winter injury to trees and shrubs is to remove any snow that may pile up after each significant snowfall. This helps to prevent snow building up to dangerously heavy loads which can cause bending and breaking of branches. Evergreens are especially at risk for winter damage, as snow readily collects in the needles. Be sure to brush the snow off, rather than shaking the branches, as shaking can also cause branch breakage. If the branches are coated in ice, let the ice melt naturally to avoid further damage.

If branches do break due to the weight of ice or snow, remove the branches as soon as weather permits. A clean cut will heal better rather than leaving a torn branch edge.

Arborvitae is a shrub notorious for receiving winter damage, as the cold, dry weather dehydrates the foliage, turning it a light or medium brown color. If only the foliage is killed, the plant should recover and leaf out again in the spring. In severe dehydration cases, the foliage and smaller twigs will die. As the dehydration worsens, more and more of the plant is killed and will need to be replaced. In windy locations, a wind barrier made of burlap helps to reduce the risk of dehydration. Anti-transpirant sprays can also be used to help prevent moisture loss.

Did you know? Plants are not affected by wind chill temperatures, but rather the actual temperature reading. Wind chill temperatures indicate how wind and cold actually feel on exposed skin. Animals and people are affected by wind chill; however, plants and other objects are not.

Horticulture Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.


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