You can avoid winter burn if the proper care and precautions are taken before the snow hits. Our winters can be cold and bitter, and our new plantings are especially vulnerable to winter burn at this time. We have some key tips on how to spot winter burn, how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens to your evergreens.
First of all, what is winter burn?
Winter burn is the damage that can visibly occur on evergreen trees and other shrubs when the plant goes into a bitter winter dehydrated. When looking at an evergreen, the winter burned areas will be brown, perhaps reddish, and brittle—similarly to when an evergreen is dying due to lack of water.
Winter burn tends to happen on the sunnier side of the evergreen, because the rays quicken the photosynthetic activity, which causes more water loss. It can also occur if there are extended warm temperatures into the fall, so when extreme cold hits, the evergreen can become shocked and susceptible to winter burn.
How do you prevent winter burn?
To put it simply, it can cause enough damage and your evergreen won’t make it into the next growing season. A simple enough rule to remember is: you do not get green from brown, so if enough damage occurs and overtakes your evergreen, it cannot be brought back. It is absolutely essential to hydrate your evergreen’s roots all season long, and especially in the fall before the ground freezes.
How to Really Avoid Winter Burn
Establish, establish, establish. Let’s say that one more time: you absolutely must establish your new plantings during the growing season. How do you establish something? Proper water, light, and soil conditions. Winter burn typically happens to dry evergreens through a process called transpiration—the water from the needles or leaves evaporates. Here are some tangible tips to avoid winter burn:
Plant in spring, late summer, or early fall to give your evergreen enough time to lay down roots during the growing season.
Lay down enough mulch at the base of your planting to ensure further water retention.
Water and proper care— keeping up with a watering schedule and care is crucial, and roots must be hydrated before the freezing months hit.
Fertilize near the beginning of the season—applying high-nitrogen fertilizer can stimulate new growth, which will delay the onset of dormancy if applied too late.
Protect your newly transplanted evergreen and shrubs (burlap, frost blankets, etc).
How to Recover From Winter Burn
You will notice how much your evergreen was affected in the early spring when the snow begins to melt, and this is when you will know if the care you took to avoid winter burn on your evergreens will be rewarded. However, in the case that they did not come out unscathed, look at how much of the evergreen has been affected. As stated earlier, you will not get green from brown, so the brown spots/areas will need to be pruned out so new growth can happen. You may benefit from reapplying mulch at the base to encourage water retention again, and get watering right away. Fertilizer in the spring can be beneficial.
How to Fertilize After the Effects of Winter Burn
After you have assessed the damage in the spring, pruned out the dead areas, re-mulched at the base, and watered, it’s time to give the evergreen a kick into the new growing season. Transplant fertilizer (high middle number) is used to establish roots and for overall plant health. This should be applied in spring if your evergreen is new (within 2-3 years), and needs a push to allow the roots to dig into their new home. We recommend applying this a few times, but then switch to high-nitrogen fertilizer (high first number) later (but not too late) in the season, because this promotes green growth and will help to give the evergreen a boost after you pruned.
If the winter burn damage was minimal in spring, and your evergreen is already established, go right to the high nitrogen fertilizer to give that green growth some momentum.
What’s important to remember is that winter burn can be recovered from if the damage isn’t too bad, and you have hopefully taken away some suggestions on how to properly care for your evergreens to prevent it altogether. We have all the advice you need at Lehigh Valley, so come and visit our friendly and knowledgeable staff if you have any further questions about winter burn care, prevention or recovery.