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Winter plant damage: watch for these 3 problems

February 23, 2016 Dave Marciniak 0 Comments

winter plant damage VA

If you’re like a lot of homeowners, you’ve been looking at your landscape plants with a little bit of worry lately. The cold has been brutal. If the Weather Channel is saying that Valentine’s weekend was “potentially life-threatening cold,” what does that say for the trees and shrubs that can’t come inside to warm up?

As I’m so fond of saying, a big part of landscaping and gardening is just getting out of Nature’s way. In many instances that damage we see will fix itself as soon as spring hits. In others, though, you may have a problem. Here are some things to look for.

Winter plant damage: dessication of broadleaf evergreens


Broadleaf evergreens are prone to winter damage, especially if they haven’t had an opportunity to develop strong root systems. After the screwy winter we had 2014-2015, I won’t do fall or winter plantings of broadleaf evergreens any more. Here’s why: the plants have these wide leaf surfaces that let the wind and sun suck moisture away mercilessly. If the plants don’t have established root systems they can’t replace the moisture and they dry out (dessicate). Affected plants can include:

  • Hollies (especially Oakleaf, Mary Nell, Nellie Stevens)
  • Southern Magnolias
  • Laurels
  • Rhododendrons and azaleas
  • Aucuba

Winter plant damage: freeze damage to crape myrtles and figs

Last year we saw damage on several crape myrtles that didn’t become evident till the trees leafed out. On a multi-trunk crape myrtle, one or more trunks failed to leaf out. On closer inspection we saw numerous suckers coming up from the base and violent-looking splits in the wood just above the ground. In talking to our consulting arborist we learned that this is not an uncommon issue here in northern Virginia.

We saw similar issues with fig trees. For many varieties of fig, northern Virginia is sort of marginal in terms of safe planting range. Last winter saw many figs die all the way back to the trunk. Luckily figs are vigorous growers so as soon as spring hit they started bouncing back.

Winter plant damage: critter damage


Is it a coincidence that “deer” is a four letter word? I say no. Deer are a problem for many gardeners across the DMV and the problem only gets worse in the winter. If they run out of food to browse – or it’s buried under snow – your plants may make the menu. If all of a sudden your shrubs seem a lot smaller, or you see fresh wood at the ends of the branches, you may have inadvertently helped feed all creatures great and small. Deer are a prime culprit, but so are rodents, especially when it comes to bark.

What can you do about it?

Do you need to freak out or will your plants be ok? It all depends on the amount of damage and the strength of your plant. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and winter damage always looks the worst before spring. What I tell people is that for the most part, let the weather warm up. Let life start flowing back into the plants, and see what happens. If you’re really worried though, take a pic and email it to me. I’m always up for talking plants.

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