landscape seasonal image


What to do about the Effects of Winter

Water logged areas of your garden – Wait until after the soil has adequately dried out in late Spring to work in your garden and to mulch with compost. Walking on wet soil will adversely compact it and mulching before it has sufficiently dried out will trap moisture in the crowns of perennials and grasses. We expect to lose a few perennials to this unavoidable condition. Take note of any saturated areas in your garden and consider installing a rain garden with plants that can tolerate wet feet. Next year, think about where you will dump any excess snow when shoveling and avoid these water-saturated areas.

Deer and rabbit damage – Check your shrubs and evergreens for the tell-tale sign of winter browsing by deer and rabbits – 45 degree angle cuts near the base of a plant. Sometimes corrective pruning can re-establish a plant’s attractive habit, but it may take a couple of years of attentive pruning to fully recover. In other cases, the damage may be too great and the plant will need to be replaced. Once plants begin to grow in spring, also look for signs of deer and rabbits nibbling on the emerging buds and shoots of your shrubs and perennials. After a cold winter with lots of snow coverage, these critters will be hungry. Protect any plants immediately that show signs of damage by installing a wire cage if possible or spraying repellent.

Vertical cracks on the South side of tree trunks – The rise and fall of temperatures during the winter months can cause a trunk to split wide open. There’s nothing that you can do to repair it, but thankfully, it’s not always fatal to a tree and often times, the tree will heal itself. Do make sure to take care of the tree in subsequent years, providing adequate moisture and fertilization to help it survive.

Winter burn on evergreens – In late winter or early spring, you may see brown or scorched tips on your evergreens. During the winter, bright sunlight and strong winds dry needles and broad-leaf foliage out. Because the stems and roots of evergreens are frozen, water is unavailable to replenish the loss of moisture. Rapid drops in temperature after a warm sunny day can also cause further injury to the plant. In future years, applying an anti-transpirant, also called anti-desiccant in early and mid-winter, can help to reduce transpiration and minimize damage to the foliage. This spring, as your evergreens break their dormancy, lightly prune branch tips to improve their appearance and encourage new growth.

Broken branches on trees and shrubs – Damaged by heavy snow load, ice or wind, branches need to be properly trimmed. Refer to (link to come) for more information on pruning or call an arborist if necessary.

Plants do not bud out in Spring – Monitor plants as temperatures begin to rise. We anticipate that with the extreme cold and high winds of this winter that some plants will not survive. Cold injury will vary by plant – species, age and general health – as well as site location and soil conditions. We’re keeping our eyes on Japanese maples and butterfly bushes in particular. Our fingers are crossed that the ample snow coverage will have protected these tender beauties. If individual branches have died, prune them out and attempt to reshape the plant if possible. If the entire plant has succumbed, you’ll want to remove it and consider replacing it with a different plant that may be better suited for your site. Or if you’ve just got to have it, replace it with the same type of plant, and provide ample winter protection.

Salt-damaged plants along sidewalks and driveway – If you used salt-based melting products on your sidewalks and driveway this winter, wait until the ground thaws and plants begin to emerge to flush the areas with water. Diluting the salt present in the soil will help, but may not prevent plants from dying due to salt exposure. Next year, switch to a non-salt based melting agent instead or use sawdust, sand or kitty litter to melt the snow and provide traction. Your plants and pets will thank you.

Poor looking lawn – Early this Spring, you may discover that your lawn has a grey, moldy look to it. Snow mold shows up after winters of heavy snow and is aggravated by excessive use of fast-release nitrogen fertilizers last Fall, too much thatch, poor drainage, heavy shade and debris left on the lawn over the winter. It typically occurs in areas where snow drifted heavily throughout the winter or where snow was piled when shoveling. Next season, use a slow-release, organic fertilizer in early fall, core aerate your lawn to manage thatch and continue to mow and rake lawn until it is completely dormant. This spring, you can over seed any damaged turf once temperatures are warm enough and the area has sufficiently dried out.

Reduction in pests/diseases – One upside to the cold winter temperatures, the number of pests and soil-borne diseases that have been multiplying or spreading unabated during the mild winters of recent years, may be knocked back significantly. For example, we are hopeful that both the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer and the prevalence of black spot spores in the soil will be reduced. Only time will tell.

For more additional information on Winter plant injuries, click here:

Reprinted from MODE Landscape Design Vol 15: The Effects of Winter, March 2014

Download and Print this article here.