Saturday, April 18, 2009

Winter Burn - A Lesson Too Late

Today we bid a sad goodbye to a pointy-topped little ornamental evergreen in our south-facing front flower bed. I'm not even sure what it was, as it was already in place when we bought this house eight years ago. It was a victim of winter burn, and had turned brown over about 70% of its foliage. If it could ever recover to the point of looking good again, which I doubted, it was going to be unsightly for a good long while, and right in front of the house wasn't a good place to try to nurse it back through a recovery period. So, alas, we removed it.

Here, from, is a good description of winter burn and how to prevent it, which I wish I had read and absorbed in time to save this little tree. Sufficient watering in the fall and protection from drying winds and high sun while the ground was still frozen would have helped considerably. I've seen burlapped shrubs in local yards from time to time; now I know why.
This winter damage to evergreens is caused by a combination of winter sun and persistent cold, drying winds, which both draw upon the reserves of moisture in the needles. If the ground is still frozen and the plant cannot replenish this lost moisture, the result is death of the green tissues, and loss of the needles.

Winterburn doesn’t occur on the coldest days of winter, but rather in early spring, when the sun is already high in the sky, but the ground is still frozen. It tends to be most severe in years when snow lingers into March and April, reflecting the light of the sun up into the branches. The problem is made much worse when evergreens are planted along the south or west side of a white house, which reflects the sunlight onto the back of these plants, burning them from both sides.

There are a number of ways to prevent winterburn damage to evergreens. First, be sure to choose evergreens that are resistant to windburn and are adequately hardy for your area. Secondly, never plant evergreens right along side the south or west wall of a white house, unless you are in a really warm part of the North. Thirdly, plant tender evergreens in a location with some protection from winter winds. Finally, be sure to give your evergreens a good watering just before freeze-up in fall, to boost their moisture reserves. Other than these practices, a protective burlap shield supported on the south and west side of the evergreen by wooden or metal posts will block both the sun and the wind, and increase the plant’s chances of successfully making it through the early spring.

The photo above and other examples of winter burn can be found at the Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory's website.


Blue Eyed Tango said...

Penelope, Thank your for this informative post on winter burn! I have a couple of corkscrew Dwarf Alberta Spruce trees in my landscaping that have turned brown like this but it started last late summer at least that's when I really started to notice it? I'm not sure what is going on but they are starting to look a lot like what you have posted. It could also be white fly my local nursery told me? I guess they're prone it them. Lu

Penelope said...

Lu- Sorry you're having this problem with your trees. I hope it's something that can be remedied! I'm no expert, alas.

Amanda said...

I have seen a lot of trees that look like that around here. I thought it may be some kind of beetle kill. Thanks for the education.