Growing Wisdom

Winter Damage To Plants Requires Patience And Care

Now that the snow is melting or even gone, depending on where you are, you are likely noticing a lot of winter damage. There are going to be two major types of damage from the extreme winter we have just been through. The first will be caused by the prolonged cold, the second from the weight of the snow. Let’s look at both of them.

Do you see evergreen plants and shrubs that have turned brown? Were these plants healthy and doing fine in the fall? If the answer is yes, you likely have winter burn or a drying out of the plants healthy tissue. This isn’t a reason to panic.

winter burn.jpg

The reason this occurs is often because the ground is frozen and the plants can’t intake water. The leaves or needles then dry out or desiccate. Browning can also happen when the sun, stronger in late winter and early spring, burns the leaves. The sun can reflect off the snow as well and create a more intense period of ultraviolet light on the plant. Some plants, which might be shaped by deciduous plants in summer, are exposed to too much light before the other plants leaf out. If the plant is still alive, the dead leaves or needles will fall off later in spring and new healthy growth will return.

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In years with a lot of snow, the sheer volume of the snow can break branches or even entire sections of plants. In this case, you will have to prune the broken branches. If the break isn’t fully through the plant, you can try to repair the branch. I have drilled a small hole through the plant and then put a screw with a washer and a nut to secure the branch to the main part of the plant.

broken winter damage.jpg

Time can heal a lot. After the snow is melted, don’t be too quick to remove plants you think are dead or beyond repair. A strong root system will often allow a plant to produce an abundance of new growth and sometimes plants badly damaged one year can end up looking quite good a few years later.


If you do lose a plant, think of it as an opportunity. Find something new and different to plant and always do adequate research to see how a particular variety performs in both abnormally cold and snowy conditions.

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