REVISED 2001PUBLICATION 426-500
VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTEAND STATE UNIVERSITYVIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY
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