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Tips for Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter

Tips for Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter

Michigan winters can be hard on landscaped plants.  Winter burn is one of the most common ways boxwood, holly, rhododendron, and most conifers are damaged.  Symptoms often develop when temperatures warm up in late winter and early spring.  While a tree is creating its food by photosynthesis, it is releasing large amounts of water through the process of transpiration.  When the tree is unable to obtain the water it needs due to drought or frozen soil, this can result in dehydration, foliar damage, and possibly death.
Here are a few tips to help prepare your plants for the winter:
  • One of the most important things to do is maintain thorough watering in the fall.  When the growing season is coming to a close, continue to water all woody plants until the ground freezes – especially newly planted trees and shrubs, and all evergreens.  This will help combat winter burn.
  • Conifers that regularly suffer from winter burn will benefit from a barrier constructed of a double layer of burlap.  This will help to block the prevailing winter winds and can also protect from deicing salt spray.
  • Young trees can be protected by using plastic tree guards around the base of the truck.  This will prevent damage from gnawing critters such as rabbits and mice.  Make sure the tree guards go high enough to be above the snow line.  Always remove them in the spring to prevent the guard from trapping moisture against the bark in the summer.  Moisture can attract insects and pathogens.
  • Anti-desiccant spray can be applied to evergreens in the fall to help lock in the moisture that the plant has stored and will help reduce the effects of winter burn.
  • The root systems of newly planted trees are susceptible to cold weather damage as well.  Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch over their root zones to help insulate from the cold and also retain moisture.
  • Snow and ice loading can damage branches on many types of ornamental conifers.  Protection could be installed in the fall to prevent snow from piling up on them.  Plants like arborvitae can be tied up with biodegradable twine to prevent them from splaying out and cracking off from the weight of snow and ice.
  • Remember that the dormant season (November through March) is the time for the lowest risk pruning of oaks.  This is important to keep your oaks from getting oak wilt disease.

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