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Winter Injury on Landscape Plants

A Technical Report from The Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories

Figure 1: Winter injury on arborvitae

Many landscape plants in the eastern half of the country will likely exhibit leaf browning, branch dieback and possibly death of the entire plant as a result of the extremely low temperatures this winter. In some locations, sub-zero temperatures occurred when there was little or no snow cover. These conditions will damage roots, twigs and branches as well as foliage. Plants stressed by low temperature injuries are more prone to insect and disease infestations later in the year.

Plants that are most prone to winter injury include Japanese maple, Rhododendron and azalea, arborvitae, holly, flowering cherry, boxwood, juniper and Taxus. Heavy rains in the summer of 2013 that saturated soils may have led to root rot and increased the plants' susceptibility to low temperatures. Some areas also experienced severe drought during the fall months that has predisposed plants to winter damage.

Treatment Considerations: In early spring, do not remove plants that are exhibiting branch dieback and decline immediately. Plants may re-sprout from interior portions of the crown. Dead branches should be cut back to healthy tissue as plants resume growth. Monitor soil moisture near affected plants and irrigate as needed when the soil is not frozen. Ensure the root zone is properly mulched. Fertilization with a slow release fertilizer will encourage recovery by ensuring sufficient nutrients for new growth. Finally, monitor affected plants for secondary insect and disease pests through the growing season. Emphasis should be placed on bark beetles, borers and canker diseases that affect stressed plants. Treat pests as needed to prevent further damage.

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