Winter Damage in the Landscape3/26/2014

Winter Damage in the Landscape

It goes without saying that this was a long and harsh winter for everyone.  Unfortunately, your landscaping probably took the brunt of the damage.  It’s obvious to realize that trees with broken limbs and damaged or up-rooted trunks need help, but what about your broadleaved shrubbery?  These too suffered damage due to cold, dry sweeping wind.  Moisture from stems and leaves was drawn out of the leaf and stem tissue, causing cells in the leaves and stems to break down.  This winter in particular, the ground froze in mid-December preventing plants from replacing the moisture lost through the leaves and stems.  This results in leaves that have a brown cast on either the entire leaf or certain sections of the leaf.  Leaves may also suffer from leaf scorch or reflective damage.  This occurred when plant parts that are not covered by snow are exposed to the snow’s reflective sunlight.  The intensive light causes a burn on exposed needles and leaves. 


Salt damage is most often found on shrubs planted along roadways.  This occurs when the salt and snow melt sprayed from passing cars coats leaves and stems.  The salt in-turn draws moisture out of the cell tissue causing brown spots on broadleaves and brown tips on needled evergreens.  In addition, the salt works its way into the root systems of plants and may cause damage to the root hairs, which are vital for nutrient and water uptake.  You can help your situation by soaking the soil around these plants thoroughly in early spring to help dilute the salt buildup from winter.


Once the damage has occurred.


Where do you start to correct the damage that has already occurred?  Although the first reaction by homeowner is that the plants are dead and need to be removed.  Although this may be the case of some plants, many of your trees and shrubs may actually still be alive and will bounce back.  The first step is to be patient.  If your plants have winter burn, wait to see if they will push new growth in the spring.  You can expect this to happen between mid-May to mid-June.  At this point you will be able to tell what needs to be pruned, and what needs to be replaced.


What shrubs are most likely to have winter damage this year?


Here is a short list of shrubs that will most likely have winter damage.  These should be watched carefully for signs of new growth prior to replacement. 

Schip laurel

Cherry laurel




Pieris Japonica




Needle evergreens such as pines, junipers and cypress

Leyland cypress