Assessing Winter Damage in the Landscape

Winter can be tough in the mid-Atlantic with school closings, stressful commutes, and bitter cold weather.  Well, in addition to winter being difficult on people, it can be damaging to our landscapes.  Assess your property for winter damage to prepare for this upcoming growing season.

Compressed Branch
Compression damage to branch

Broken branches

The most obvious damage to plants are downed trees or broken branches.  Snow and ice puts excessive weight on branches, causing them to break.  Trim these branches back to the point where the branch forms, avoiding the branch collar, or swollen area at the base of the branch.  This will protect the trunk from decay.  If damaged branches are too high to reach from the ground, contact a professional arborist.

Compression damage

Compression damage is basically a branch that is partially broken.  The branch may appear to be drooping, or just lower that usual.  Upon inspection, you may see a horizontal split somewhere along the branch.  Depending on the severity, the branch may survive, or it may need to be removed.  If this branch does not leaf out with the rest of the plant, it is a candidate for removal.

Leaning, partial uprooting

Some trees, like Arborvitae, are susceptible to uprooting, but this may happen to any plant in extreme weather.  Check the roots of your trees and shrubs to make sure they are well anchored.  If some slight uprooting occurs, it may be possible to save the plant by straightening it back up and staking it for a season.  Make sure there is some give in the ties, and that they do not cut into the bark of the tree.  A flat strap or a section of garden hose slipped over a wire does a good job of protecting the bark.

Holly Leaf Burn
Winter burn on holly leaf

Leaf scorch

The leaves on broad-leaved evergreens such as hollies and cherry laurels may look brown at the edges.  This is due to winter desiccation or drying out.  Unless severe, most broad-leaved evergreens will grow through this winter damage.  Keep an eye on these plants as the weather warms up to see how they perform this spring.

Winter kill and cold damage

Crape myrtles, camellias, and other southern plants may do well in mild winters, but suffer major damage in harsh ones.  As with broad-leaved evergreens, wait until spring to see if these border-line plants do well, need pruning, or need to be removed.

Root rot

Plants that need excellent drainage may be able to survive the cold, but suffer from winter moisture.  You may notice that your rosemary or lavender looked fine in February, only to die in March.  This occurs when the snow melts and the soil remains wet for extended periods.  If this happens choose replacement plants better suited to the existing garden conditions, and place these plants where there is appropriate drainage.

Deer and rodent damage

Extreme winter weather affects everyone, including animals.  Deer resort to eating plants they do not normally eat, such as hollies.  Many of these trees will grow through this winter browse, and may fare better in milder winters.  Other damage caused by animals can be much more damaging.  Voles and other rodents burrow under the snow and gnaw on the bark of trees and shrubs.  You may notice a ring of damage to the bark right above the ground level.  Although it does not look as dramatic as broken branches, this damage will often kill the plant by disrupting the flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves.

So as the weather warms, and you get a chance to get outside, take a few minutes to inspect your property for damage to your landscape.  If you need help with assessing or repairing winter damage, as always, feel free to contact us.