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COLUMN: ‘Tis the season to winterize trees, shrubs

By Rosanne Loparco
Posted 11/28/21

As trees and shrubs prepare for winter dormancy and the cold, they could use a little extra care from you to ensure a good start in the spring. The winter environment can adversely affect trees and …

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COLUMN: ‘Tis the season to winterize trees, shrubs


As trees and shrubs prepare for winter dormancy and the cold, they could use a little extra care from you to ensure a good start in the spring. The winter environment can adversely affect trees and shrubs, causing us a lot of disappointment. Here are some common problems and some tips of what to do to prevent this from happening.

Desiccation Injury

This type of injury is commonly called “winter burn”. It’s usually observed in late winter or early spring and is most common on evergreens such as junipers, arborvitae and/or yews. The injury occurs during sunny and/or windy winter weather as plants lose water from their leaves via transpiration faster than it can be replaced by roots which are in frozen soil.

A tip to avoid winter burn is to act now by providing adequate moisture so that the plants can store the moisture before the ground freezes. A drier fall means you need to be watering evergreens now; a well hydrated plant is less likely to suffer from winter desiccation injury later in winter. If there is limited rain or snowfall during the winter, you may even need to water in winter; pick a day when the temperature is above 40 degrees F. Protecting the plant with a barrier of burlap over and around the plant will also help by protecting it from the winter wind and sun.


This occurs when the sun warms tree bark during the day and then the bark rapidly cools at night. These abrupt changes usually occur on south or southwest sides of tree trunks and branches, sometimes killing the bark. Younger or thin barked trees such as cherry and maple are more susceptible. Damage creates an environment to introduce insects or disease to the plant.

A good tip to prevent sunscald damage is to use a protective “tree wrap”; these are sold in most garden centers. Be sure to remove the wrap in the spring.

Frost Heaving

This can occur with newly planted small shrubs and perennials; exposure of the plant roots to above-ground winter conditions as the plant “heaves” out of the ground. The freezing and drying of exposed roots can cause damage that if extensive enough can kill the plant. If you planted later in the summer or are planting now, be sure to mulch around the base and cover the entire root zone of the plant to help prevent the soil from the freezing and thawing conditions responsible for heaving.

Snow and Ice Damage

Heavy snow and ice can result in breakage. Consider protecting susceptible plants by using protective covers or wooden barriers. Don’t plant trees or shrubs in places where snowmelt from roofs can fall.

Most plants are flexible and will tolerate snow load. Even when bent to the ground, most plants will spring back if they aren’t broken. If you are concerned about your plants after a heavy, wet snowfall, tap the branches gently with a stick or a broom handle. Don’t worry about removing all the snow. Reducing some of the weight is usually enough to prevent any serious damage.

You can still add mulch if the ground isn’t completely frozen. Mulch benefits trees and shrubs all year round. Mulch about two to three inches deep of wood chips, bark, compost, or other organic mulch over the root zone of the plant. Mulch wide, not deep; keep it away from the crown of the plant. Extend the mulch to the edge of the outer branches. This will reduce soil compaction, improve water absorption, and insulate against temperature extremes.

Taking precautions now to protect your shrub and tree investment will save you time and money come spring.

Consider participating in the master gardener volunteer training in 2022! Come and visit the Extension Parker F. Scripture Botanical Gardens an educational component of the Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer. For more information call us or visit, phone 315-736-3394, Ext 100. Be sure to like us on Facebook ( and check out our YouTube channel by hitting the icon at the bottom of our web page


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