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Trees and Shrubs. Managing Winter Injuries

Trees and Shrubs. Managing Winter Injuries

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Published by: Na kamura Nakamura on Apr 04, 2012
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Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, veteran status,national origin, disability, or political affiliation. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Departmentof Agriculture cooperating. J. David Barrett, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg;Lorenza W. Lyons, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
t is often necessary to provide extra attention toplants in the fall to help them over-winter and startspring in peak condition. Understanding certainprinciples and cultural practices will significantlyreduce winter damage that can be divided into threecategories: desiccation, freezing, and breakage.
Desiccation, or drying out, is a significant cause of damage, particularly on evergreens. Desiccation occurswhen water leaves the plant faster than it is taken up.Several environmental factors can influence desicca-tion. Needles and leaves of evergreens transpire somemoisture even during the winter months. Duringseverely cold weather, the ground may freeze to a depthbeyond the extent of the root system, thereby cuttingoff the supply of water. If the fall has been particularlydry, there may be insufficient ground moisture tosupply the roots with adequate water. Water loss isgreatest during periods of strong winds and duringperiods of sunny, mild weather. The heat of the sun cancause stomates on the lower sides of the leaves to open,increasing transpiration. Injury due to desiccation iscommonly seen as discolored, burned evergreenneedles or leaves. It is worst on the side facing thewind. This can be particularly serious if plants are near a white house where the sunís rays reflect off the side,causing extra damage.
Proper watering can is a critical factor inwinterizing. If autumn rains have been insufficient,give plants a deep soaking that will supply water to theentire root system before the ground freezes. Thispractice is especially important for evergreens. Water-ing when there are warm days during January, Febru-ary, and March is also important.Also, mulching is an important control for erosionand loss of water. A 2-inch layer of mulch will reducewater loss and help maintain uniform soil moisturearound roots.Antidesiccant compounds are sold in many gardencenters and supply catalogs, although research hasshown that these compounds degrade rapidly and are of little value to homeowners.Although it is unattractive, small evergreens can beprotected by using windbreaks made out of burlap,canvas, or similar materials. Windbreaks will helpreduce the force of the wind and shade the plants. Theycan be created by attaching materials to a frame arounda plant. A complete wrapping of straw or burlap issometimes used. Black plastic should be avoided as amaterial for wrapping plants. During the day heatbuilds up inside, increasing the extreme fluctuationbetween day and night temperatures and speeding upgrowth of buds in the spring, making them moresusceptible to a late frost. If plants require annualprotection measures to this extent, move them to amore protected location or replace them with hardier specimens.Frost heaving occurs when alternate freezing andthawing of the soil pushes small, shallow-rooted plantsout of the ground. This prevents the plants from havingfirm contact with the soil and exposes the roots to winddesiccation.
Mulch acts as a buffer to the soil. Itreduces the amount of alternate freezing and thawing of the soil which causes frost heaving.If a plant has been heaved from the ground, replantit as soon as the soil thaws. Unless the root system issmall enough to be pushed easily with the fingers intothe soft soil, dig up the plant, retaining as much of theroot system as possible within a soil ball, and replant it.
*Extension Specialists, Horticulture, Virginia Tech
 Diane Relf and Bonnie Appleton*
Managing Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs
 Frost heaving
is most common in small, new plantings.The danger is root exposure. Replant quickly.
Freezing injury can take several forms.New growth stimulated in early fall by late summer fertilization or pruning may not have had time to hardenoff sufficiently to survive sudden drops to belowfreezing. Ice crystals rupture cell walls; this damagewill show up as dead branch tips and branches.Management: Fall fertilization after plants aredormant but before soil temperature drops below 45
F,may be of value in preventing winter damage. Avoidlate summer or early fall fertilization while plants arestill active, as this stimulates growth, which is easilykilled by cold.A sharp temperature change between day and nightmay freeze the water within the trunk of a tree, causingit to explode or split open in a symptom called frostcracking. If not severe, these cracks seem to close whenwarm weather arrives, although the wood fibers withinmay not grow back together. This is sometimes calledsouthwest injury because it is commonly found on thesouthwest side of shade trees where warm afternoonsun creates further extremes in the day and nighttemperatures. A similar phenomenon with many shrubsis called bark split. Particularly susceptible are manycultivars of evergreen azaleas. In most cases plantsclose over the cracks adequately, with no treatmentnecessary.
Avoid wounding trees when they areyoung.Wrapping trunks with burlap strips or commercialtree wrap, painting white, or even shading with a boardmay prevent bark splitting. All of these methods reflectsunlight and reduce the buildup of heat during the day,thus reducing the temperature fluctuations that causesplitting. Any wraps should be removed, after oneseason, to prevent insect or moisture damage.The sun can also prematurely stimulate the openingof flowers or leaf buds in the spring. Freezing nighttemperatures might kill these buds. Bud injury due tothe cold temperatures of winter also occurs in thedormant state on more tender trees and shrubs. Flower-ing shrubs may lose their flower buds, although their leaf buds usually survive. Even with good manage-ment, injury to young growth or insufficiently hardenedtissues may still occur as a result of unusual weather patterns. Little can be done to prevent injury in theseinstances.Root injury may occur in containers and planters,or balled and burlapped (B&B) stock, which has beenleft, exposed during the winter. Lethal root tempera-tures can start at 28˚F on some species. Containerizedor B&B plants should be placed in protected areas,sunk into the ground, grouped together, or heavilymulched to avoid low temperature injury to roots.
 Rapid temperature changes can cause tree bark to split.This is known as
 frost cracking
or southwest injury.
Breakage of branches is usually related to snowand ice. Two causes of damage by snow and ice areweight and careless snow removal. High winds com-pound the damage done to ice-covered plants. Damagemay take the form of misshapen plants, or may actuallyresult in broken branches and split trunks.
Proper pruning at an appropriate timethroughout the year is effective in reducing damage byice and snow. Particularly important is the removal of any weak, narrow-angled, V-shaped crotches. Avoidlate-summer pruning that stimulates new, tender growthand reduces the supply of nutrients available to theplant through the winter.Snow collecting on shrubs should be removed witha broom. Always sweep upward with the broom to liftsnow off. When the branches are frozen and brittle,avoid disturbing them. Wait until a warmer day or untilice naturally melts away.
new soil line
Planning Ahead to AvoidDamage
Much of the disappointment and frustration of winter-damaged plants can be avoided by planningahead.
Select Hardy Plants
Grow plant materials that are native or are knownto be winter hardy in your area. Avoid planting exoticspecies north of their plant hardiness zones unlessunique microclimates in the landscape are such so as toguarantee winter survival.
Select an Appropriate Site
When planting broadleaf evergreens that are knownto be easily injured, such as some varieties of rhodo-dendron, azalea, camellia, daphne, and holly, select alocation on the north, northeast, or eastern side of abuilding or other barrier where they will be protectedfrom prevailing winds and intense winter sun. Theseexposures will also delay spring growth, thus prevent-ing late spring frost injury to new flower growth.
Avoid Low Spots and Roof Overhangs
Avoid low spots that create frost pockets and sitesthat are likely to experience rapid fluctuations intemperature. Since heavy snow and ice can cause a lotof damage to branches and trunks, it is important thatplants be placed away from house eaves and other areaswhere snow or ice is likely to collect and fall or slideonto the plants.
Promote Healthy Plants
Plants that are diseased or deficient in nutrients aremore susceptible to winter injury than strong, healthyplants.
Treating Winter Injury
Many plants have protective mechanisms thatshould not be confused with winter damage. Somewill shed leaves (nandina, privet); some will positiontheir leaves flat against their stems (fatsia); some willroll their leaves downward or the margins inward(rhododendron); while others will have wilted-lookingleaves all winter (viburnum). In addition, the red,purple, bronze, and brown winter color of some ever-greens (juniper, arborvitae, cryptomeria, boxwood)should not be confused as winter injury.After a particularly severe winter, many plants mayshow substantial injury. Damage symptoms includediscolored, burned evergreen needles or leaves, deadbranch tips and branches, heaved root systems, andbroken branches. At winterís end, remove only thosebranches that are broken or so brown that they areobviously dead. Do not remove branches when scrap-ing the outer bark reveals a green layer underneath. Theextent of winter damage can best be determined after new growth starts in the spring. At that time, prune alldead twigs or branches back to within one quarter of aninch above a live bud, or to the branch collar of thenearest live branch.If discoloration on narrow-leafed evergreen needlesis 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 willusually produce new leaves if branches and vegetativeleaf buds have not been too severely injured. Damagedleaves may drop or be removed. Prune to remove badlydamaged or broken branches, to shape the plant, and tostimulate new growth.An application of fertilizer to the soil aroundwinter-damaged plants, accompanied by adequatewatering, will usually induce new growth to compen-sate for winter injuries.
 Bad branch angle. A narrow branching angle can beweak. Bark becomes included and the branch is weaklyattached.Good branch angle. A wider branch angle is conduciveto a stronger branch attachment.

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