Determining Winter Damage To Plants
WHAT IF IT SNOWS AGAIN?
Before I talk about winter damage to plants, let me just offer
some important advice…in case we happen to get more snow and cold
Often when temperatures are just below freezing we get large, heavy,
wet snowflakes. This type of snow can cause a lot of damage to
upright plants, because of its weight, bending or even breaking
branches. One needs to shake or brush this type of snow off the
branches of upright plants before it permanately ruins their shape or
is so heavy that it actually breaks them. Evergreens, which trap snow,
are the most susceptible.
On the other hand,
small snowflakes, usually occurring when temperatures are colder offer
some protection to plants and generally do not need to be
removed. Unless there is a big accumulation of snow, these small
snowflakes usually are light-weight. Remember, in a way, snow is
‘Mother Natures’ winter protection for plants.
The branches of some plants have been weighted down with snow and
are now drooping, ruining the appearance of your plant. You can simply
tie them up, provide support for them, or cut them off. The last thing
I would do is cut them off, if there is some other means of saving
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WINTER PLANT DAMAGE?
After really cold weather or heavy snow it is not unusual for
some trees, shrubs, perennials or hardy annuals to look badly damaged,
sick or even dead. Just because the leaves are brown limp, droopy or
sickly looking, does not necessarily mean that the branch from which it
originates is sick or dead. In other words, in some cases these ugly
leaves may eventually fall off, and be replaced by new ones, or new
growth and new leaves may develop just beyond the point where the old
leaves dropped off.
So don’t be in a
big hurry to start pruning. Be patient. I urge you to wait
until spring when plants begin their new growth, before acting. In
March, April or even May you will be able to get a much better idea of
how much winter damage a plant has suffered and you can determine if it
even needs pruning.
I cannot tell you the
number of times I have gone to the landfills after a cold winter only
to see dozens of plants in full growth that homeowners have cut back
and discarded, thinking they were dead. As the saying goes:
‘Haste makes waste’
You can determine if a
plant is dead or alive at a particular point of growth, by simply
scratching the bark with your finger- nail or lightly scarring the bark
with a knife. The next growth layer, just below the bark, is called the
cambium layer. If it is green the plant is still alive at that
point. If it is a sickly yellow or brown the plant is dead or
dying at that point. This gives you a guideline of whether there is a
need to prune.
In some cases, plants are
apt to look just fine, then all of a sudden begin turning yellow or
brown. This indicates that the root system was frozen and damaged
during the cold weather, and there is nothing you can do about
it. Let’s keep our fingers-crossed on this one!
Keep in mind that some ornamental grasses, perennials and hardy
annuals die back to the ground each year, so go ahead and cut them off
an inch or two above the ground, as you normally would.
ROSES: Severe pruning of roses is not done until late February or early March.
If possible, never prune off more then 50% of the old growth.
Severe pruning stimulates vegetative (leaves) growth, and can delay
RHODODENDRONS, AZALEAS AND CAMELLIAS: Some flower buds may have been frozen and the plants may not flower, this year. When the buds dry-up, simply pick them off.
Winter damage to most other types of plants will be determined
between now and springtime…follow directions above.
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