Winter Tips

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One of the biggest challenges facing the tree and shrub care division is trying to figure out the effects that Mother Nature has on the overall health of our landscapes. Many times during winter, we have seen our temperatures climb well into the 50 degree range. We can have above or below average snowfall, or we can see terrible ice and wind storms. Any of these circumstances can create visible short-term damage, but the real damage will be long-term.

  • Warm winter temperatures can cause Premature Spring Blooming and increased Insect Populations. Once early bloom starts, the blooms are highly susceptible to frost damage. Keep this in mind when you begin to wonder why a particular plant didn't flower as much as in the past or not at all. A mild winter means that more of the overwintering eggs, of both beneficial and problem insects will survive and potentially lead to an increase in insect activity this season.
  • Frost Cracking. A sudden warm spell accompanied with rain or melting snow will allow moisture to enter cracks in the branches or trunk. Once freezing temperatures return, the resulting cracking can cause serious damage to the plants. The evidence may not be visible for several years after the original damage was done.
  • Inadequate Snow Fall also plays a significant part in plant health. Snow is an excellent insulator. It helps to protect root systems, much in the same way a properly applied mulch will. It will help protect root systems by reducing the extreme temperature swings and help to hold moisture in the soil. Snow cover will also help to insulate and protect the low growing trees and shrubs from winter desiccation.
  • Desiccation is the term often used to describe the damage to trees and shrubs that has resulted from our harsh winter weather. Frozen ground can deprive plants of their natural ability to absorb moisture from the soil. The drying winds of winter compound the problem, resulting in excessive moisture loss that can cause severe stress, shock, wilting, and even plant failure. Anti-Desiccants are materials that can be applied to help reduce the amount of moisture lost. These materials, when applied, form a protective coating on the foliage to help minimize the damages caused by the drying winter winds. The first treatment should be in late fall and a follow up visit in mid-winter. These treatments work well on most evergreens, rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies, boxwood and many other ornamentals.
  • Wind and Ice Storms will also cause damage to the landscape. Uprooting trees, toppled trees, broken and damaged limbs are some of the typical damages we see immediately. Uprooted trees should be properly replanted as soon as possible to reduce further root desiccation and damage. Quite often, restaking is not the solution. Long-term effects can be seen later on as a result of a disrupted root system. Root systems that have been disrupted will have a tendency to show drought like symptoms earlier than others. Damaged limbs should be properly removed as soon as possible to reduce rot, decay, dieback, death or more significant damage later on.

Regular inspections of your plant material for potential insect problems, and to identify storm damage, will ensure that the correct management strategies can be taken to enhance the health of the landscapes.

Winter pruning will help any landscape to look its best and achieve its maximum potential. Proper pruning works to establish a consistent growth pattern and appearance to the entire landscape site. Several factors must be considered in order to do this.

Aesthetics

Visual beauty is enhanced when plants are maintained in their natural shape and proper size.

Balancing

Removal of oversized branches, redirecting growth and raising of the canopy restores the natural form of trees and shrubs.

Corrective

Restores the natural structure of the tree or shrub by removing crossing, distorted, diseased, or damaged branches.

Thinning

Promotes better air circulation through selective removal of dense branches. This helps to reduce insect and disease pressures.

Timing for any pruning work is dependent on the type of plant material. Most deciduous trees should be pruned before the spring growth flush occurs, typically December - February. Conifers can be pruned after the new growth has hardened off in the early summer months. For flowering shrubs, wait until after the seasons flowers have disappeared.