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Master Gardener: Caring for winter-damaged trees and shrubs

12.4

Some of the plantings in your landscape may show substantial injury caused by this winter’s weather. Damage symptoms include discolored, burned evergreen needles or leaves, dead branch tips and branches, heaved root systems and broken branches. At winter’s end, remove only those branches that are broken or so brown that they are obviously dead. Do not remove branches if when scraping underneath the outer bark a green layer is revealed. Wait until mid-summer before pruning because even dead-looking plants may still be alive. The extent of winter damage can best be determined after new growth starts in the spring. At that time, prune all dead twigs and branches back to within one quarter of an inch above a live bud or flush with the nearest live branch.

If discoloration on narrow-leaved evergreen needles is not too severe, they may regain their green color or new foliage may be produced on the undamaged stem. Broad-leaved evergreens showing leaf damage will usually produce new leaves if branches and vegetative leaf buds have not been severely injured. Damaged leaves may drop or be removed. Prune to remove badly damaged or broken branches to shape plant and to stimulate new growth.

Replant small plants with root systems partially heaved out of the ground as soon as the soil thaws. Unless the root system is small enough to be pushed easily with the fingers into the soft soil, dig the plant, retaining as much of the root system as possible with the soil ball and replant it. An application of fertilizer to the soil around winter-damaged plants, accompanied by adequate watering, will usually induce new growth to compensate for winter injury.

Special care should be given to plants injured by winter’s cold. The dry months of June, July and August can be particularly damaging as the plants are weak and often unable to survive the stress of drought. Be sure to water adequately.

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