Learning Center


Protecting Shrubs from Winter Damage

In this blog post, we are going to talk through identifying and addressing winter damage on landscape plants.

Harden Off

Ideally, plants have a chance to ‘harden off’, which is what happens when temperatures gradually get cooler from fall into winter.  This process gets plants prepared to withstand the cold, windy winter weather.  However, for example, in November of 2019, we had low temperatures in the teens, skipping several temperature ranges.  This lack of gradual cooling meant that many plants weren’t hardened off and able to take this weather without sustaining damage.

Symptoms of Winter Damage

Gregg starts off by showing us a gardenia that has a brown section in it.  The leaves on this section are all brown and still on the plant.  He suggests leaving the plant alone for a bit longer to see if that section puts on new leaves this spring.  Some shrubs have several cuttings in each pot; and it could be that this section of the shrub had a weak cutting.  This weakness could have made the winter damage worse in that the cutting didn’t have the overall strength to handle the flash freeze we had in November.

Remember to check the plant again in a month or so and see if it has put on new growth.  If it hasn’t, cut this section of the plant out and let the remainder of the plant fill in.

The next plant that Gregg he discusses is an azalea.  This azalea is an evergreen azalea… but it’s lost about 90% of its foliage.  This is pretty common after an early flash freeze and most likely the plant will be fine.  One way to know how the plant is really doing is to scratch the surface bark off and check to see if there is green tissue under it.  There is on this plant and it should flush out with new growth when temperatures start warming up this spring.

Feeding Winter Damaged Plants

Next, Gregg and Jeff discuss fertilizers Cottonseed Meal and Good Earth brand Jump Start; these are wonderful natural fertilizers to help get the plant growing this spring.  You will want to apply this fertilizer when temperatures start warming up so that the nutrients are present when the plant breaks out of dormancy and starts putting on new growth.  Mid-March should be fine.  Later on in the growing season, you can also apply Ferti-Lome Start-N’-Grow.  You want to use Start-N’-Grow once the chance of frost is past and you want to encourage more top growth.

Last but not least, Gregg shows us winter damage on an Emerald Green Arborvitae.  The winter damage shows up as brown tips on the ends of branches.  He brushes through the foliage and shows that it will fall off and encourages the same fertilization method as mentioned above.

Now you know how to identify and address winter damage on landscape plants! Bottom line, usually winter damage doesn’t kill plants but it can set them back.  Knowing what to do this spring to get them started out right this season is key!

For more information, watch this video as well.