It’s been a brutal winter with temperatures in the single digits and some trees and plants perhaps suffered some winter injury of some sort. The only good thing about the snow that has stayed on the ground is that it has kept the planting beds well insulated. This helps plants stay warm and keeps them from uprooting.
So when it warms up and you venture outside here are some things that you may notice thanks to the polar vortex:
#1 Browning of evergreens – During frigid temperatures the water freezes beyond the tree’s root system and the plant has no access to water. This event along with the wind and sun causes the plant to dry up and eventually show some browning on the needles. This is normal and most evergreens are pretty hardy. With patience, the tree will bounce back. If the tree has a yellowish tint mixed in then most likely it’s still alive. You can scrape the bark off some branches and see if there’s green underneath if you are unsure and think it’s a goner. Wait until the growing season and if you notice a flush of green then it just needs time to recuperate.
#2 Broken or bent branches – Heavy snow can surely put a lot of weight on tree branches causing the branch to weaken. It’s important to make sure you prune trees so that they will be stronger and reduce the chance of breakage. You may have to cut the branch if it is dead. If you have bent branches you can try to tie the wood back into place and leave it for two seasons. Make sure not to tie it too tight and use a stocking to reduce tree damage.
#4 Deer damage – With all this snow on the ground the deer are nibbling on anything it finds above the snow, even those plants that are supposed to be deer resistant. It’s possible that they only bit off the tips and left you with a tree that can put out more green, but there’s no way to tell until the growing season. You can leave as is and wait for needles to come back, but if you do make sure that it is watered during a heatwave. Keep an eye on it!
#5 Salt damage – If you have plants along driveways or on road then these plants are susceptible to turning brown first and eventually dying. Remedy: Move them in the Spring or Fall or add some salt decreaser before winter comes around again.
Sometimes, winter injury may not be noticeable until later in the season when flowers are blooming. And sometimes it may take a couple of seasons.
If you suspect a tree or plant is a goner, don’t be quick with the shears to remove until you at least check to see if it’s still alive. Plants need time to recover so be patient and give them a chance. If you are unsure then scrape the bark off with a knife or your nail and see if there’s green underneath. If so, then it’s alive.
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