What’s Trending? Winter Burn Causes Evergreens to Loose Their Green Color

We have been getting a bunch of questions from customers regarding the browning on evergreens this spring. It is wide spread and has affected evergreens of all types, including arborvitae, English ivy, boxwood, juniper, cypress, holly, and rhododendrons. What is the cause of this browning of leaves you might ask? It is called winter burn and was the result of a long, cold winter, unlike anything we have seen to recent memory.

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What is winter burn? Winter burn is typically noticed in early spring as the weather warms and plants break free from the snow and ice that has covered them much of the winter. It is particularly problematic for evergreens that attempt to hold their color through the winter, but instead have their leaves dried out from cold winds, melting snow, ice melters, and/or a deep freeze. With such extreme conditions experienced this past winter, winter burn is more severe and wide spread this year than any other year in recent memory. Winter burn can cause a portion of the plant to brown or in some cases the entire plant, as was the case with English ivy this winter. (Reference below for some examples)


What causes winter burn? Winter burn is the result of moisture loss in plant leaves. Typically evergreens are able to restore small amounts of moisture loss with the use of their root system, but this year’s harsh winter was too much for these evergreens to adapt too; causing portions of their foliage to die off. In some situations, the roots may have been killed by the deep freeze and the plants will not be able to regrow. Only time will tell in this case!


How do I treat affected plants? Fertilizer, some pruning, and patience are the only remedies for plants effected by winter burn. We recommend that you prune out clearly dead leaves/limbs of the evergreen. If you wonder if a leaf is dead, you can scrap the leaf and see if it still green inside (if so, it is probably going to come back). If completely dead, you can prune these limbs out so that there is room for new growth to fill in. In the case of English ivy, we are finding most of the leaves to be completely dead this spring. Only time will tell if the root system is still alive enough to create some new brilliant foliage. We recommend that you fertilize your evergreens with a food appropriate for that plant in the spring. Holly-Tone from Espoma or anyone of our other well-rounded fertilizers (similar to a 5-5-5 or 10-10-10) will be good in this case. You want to encourage regrowth this year and a good dose of fertilizer will do just that. The last remedy is pretty simple… time. In the case of mildly effected plants, you should see solid improvement after a dose of fertilizer and some nice penetrating spring rains. Heavily effected plants may take a few months to start looking normal again. If it is a plant that you really did enjoy, then make sure you give it enough time to recover before making a choice on whether or not to get rid of the plant.


How can I prevent winter burn next year? As mentioned before, winter burn is the cause of moisture loss in leaves of evergreens during the winter. You can help insulate your evergreens from the cold winds by wrapping them in burlap. This works great for more fragile plants such as arborvitae and boxwood. You can also set up a burlap, cloth, or plastic fence of sorts to limit the exposure that plants have with road salt, which naturally sucks the moisture from plant leaves. Salt can splash up from roadways and fine debris can float through the air, so these partitions will help to prevent its contact with evergreen leaves. The use of salt-free ice melters on your driveway or sidewalks can help with this as well. Lastly, products such as Wilt Stop will provide a protective coating to plant leaves to insulate the leaves. This product works great in the summer time, but can also be used throughout the winter to provide an extra barrier against moisture loss caused by wind, salt, and quick melting snow and ice. It is a simple spray-on and let dry formula.


If you have any further questions about winter burn or need advice on anything else that might be causing harm in your lawn or garden this spring, please be sure to stop by our Lawn and Garden Department.

Rollier's Hardware

Phone: 412-561-0922

Email: info@rolliers.com 

Address: 600 Washington Road
Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228

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