Winter Plant Damage

It has been the coldest winter in 28 years here in Middle Tennessee and you may be seeing some leaf or needle damage on some of your landscape plants. If your evergreen plants have brown spots on the leaves or entire branches of brown leaves, they are probably suffering from Winter Burn (or Winter Scorch). The plants that we have noticed which have been broadly affected include: Schip Laurel, Otto Luyken Laurel, Hypericum, Manhattan Euonymous, and even some Nandina.
Winter Burn is described as discoloration caused by the leaves or needles on evergreen plants drying out. During the winter, evergreen plants continue to lose water vapor through their leaves or needles. The leaves must replace the water by pulling it up from the roots. However, if the ground is frozen, the plants’ roots cannot absorb ground water to supply it to the leaves. Additionally, if we experience a warm and sunny day while the ground is frozen, the evaporation from the leaves increases, possibly causing the burned foliage to appear. Wind, salt spray, and even dryer vents can contribute to excessive water evaporation from the leaves.

Here is an example of a holly suffering from extensive foliar damage.

Here is an example of a holly suffering from extensive foliar damage.

Many people may misdiagnose this as a disease, when in fact; the plant may recover fully from the damage. There are two schools of thought on how to handle the damaged foliage. One option is to trim out any discolored foliage or branches. This will allow the plant to focus its energies on new growth. The second option is to wait and see if the plant drops the damaged leaves and replaces them with new growth. The second option may be more appealing if trimming the damaged portions of the plant out will disfigure the look of the plant.
Typically, Winter Burn will not permanently damage a plant. However, repeated episodes of Winter Burn and/or leaf scorch in the summer will eventually weaken a plant and make it more susceptible to disease.
There are some steps you can take to protect your plants from Winter Burn.
1. Water your plants if we are experiencing and exceptionally dry or cold winter.
2. Protect your plants from strong winds by wrapping the exposed side in standard burlap.
3. Mulch your plants to help retain moisture in the soil.
We are here to help! Contact us at (615) 776-7456 if you have questions or need our help with properly diagnosing or trimming any damaged plants.

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