Property owners now can spot winter damage in landscapes

Finally, the cold winter weather has broken, and homeowners are walking around their landscapes, looking to refresh their spirits after months of cabin fever.

As you walk around the yard, it’s a good time to look for winter injury to ornamental trees and shrubs.

One of the more common injuries is winter desiccation on broadleaf evergreens, such as hollies and boxwoods. The typical symptom is browning of the leaves, especially on the windward side.

Throughout the winter months, broadleaf evergreens lose moisture, especially on sunny or windy days as air rushes over the leaf surface.

During the normal growing season (spring and summer), loss of water in the leaves is alleviated by bringing water from the soil, through the plant’s “plumbing system” and back into the leaves.

In cold winters such as this past one, the water in the soil is frozen solid and cannot move into the plant roots. Without water replenishing lost water in the leaves, the tissue dies and turns brown.

Though it seemed that nothing was moving throughout the winter months, wildlife were out foraging for food. While deer get all the hype on feeding damage, many smaller animals were doing just as much harm.

Rabbits either gnaw off the bark of younger trees or simply snip off the ends of easy-to-reach branches. Plants can withstand some feeding activity but complete removal of bark around a small tree or shrub can result in death of that ornamental.

A couple of snowfall events in central Pennsylvania were over several inches. That snow load, if allowed to accumulate on evergreen branches could result in damage, most likely snapping of limbs of the main trunk.

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent these types of injuries in the future but the effort now is to minimize the damage. Prune out the dead or damaged branches.

If you are not sure what is dead, then wait a few more weeks until we are well into spring where it will be much easier to observe the difference between healthy and dead tissue.

Reduce stress events on the injured plant as much as possible. As an example, if we run into a short-term drought (1 to 3 months of no rain), then make sure the winter-injured plant receives a little more TLC than the other landscape plants.

Most woody ornamentals will have survived the harsh winter but might need a little extra care to get back on their feet.