Landscape Literacy

Winter Burn: A Cause of Concern

This brutal cold spell that we have been going through may make you feel like staying inside next to a fire, with a blanket and some hot tea. You’re not the only one who is suffering – February is the month that most ‘winter burn’, or desiccation, occurs on plants.

Windy days pull moisture from the leaves of plants, and because the soil is frozen, most moisture from rain water runs off instead of seeping into the ground. Frigid temperatures like we saw this past weekend contribute to winter damage, along with heavy snow and ice causing branches to break. Broad-leaved evergreens (Camellias, Hollies, Rhododendrons) and trees with brittle wood (Bradford pear) are especially susceptible to winter damage. Preventing this kind of damage is not guaranteed, but there are steps you can take to avoid damage ahead of time instead of trying to repair it after the fact.

  • Plants should be selected for your landscape based on their hardiness in your zone. Planting plants that are not capable of surviving your area’s winter months makes you more inclined to winter damage.
  • Try to plant plants where they will be protected from cold winter winds.
  • Spray an anti-desiccant material on vulnerable shrubs (Hollies, Boxwoods, Nandina, Azalea, etc.). This coating can help prevent moisture loss, but will need to be reapplied whenever the temperature rises above freezing for at least 24 hours.
  • Avoid planting plants in areas where snowdrifts may cause a problem. Take into consideration where snow is more likely to pile based on snowplowing, shoveling, and falling snow from rooftops.
  • Surrond susceptible plants with some type of wind barrier, such as one made from burlap.
  • Water generously over time before harsh winter conditions set in, and be sure to mulch beds at 3″ deep to conserve moisture.
  • Prune appropriately to ensure plants are structurally healthy.
  • If wildlife is a problem in your area, use repellents to prevent deer from grazing on your plants in the rough winter months.
  • Use magnesium chloride instead of sodium chloride for de-icing to avoid unintended plant damage.
  • Use birdseed or sand instead of salt for traction in slippery areas.

Proper maintenance year-round can help prevent desiccation of plants in your landscape. If you’re concerned about winter damage, please feel free to Contact Us today!