A Rough Spring Ahead?

We’ve recently noticed that certain types of flowering trees and shrubs have their 2016 flower buds swelling, and in a few instances, actually opening this December! Why? The trees are confused.

The abnormally warm November and December is tricking certain Magnolia, Crab Apple and potentially other plants into thinking they should be flowering. We’ve seen this happen before. What may unfortunately occur is this…

When the flower buds are tricked into swelling ahead of schedule, whether they actually open into flowers or not, they may be damaged by the inevitable cold winter which will surely follow. It may not be as cold as usual due to El Nino, but it will be cold enough to burn and dry out the buds. This means that your tree may not flower at all in 2016, or the flowering may be sparse or weak.

We already know that we will be receiving calls next spring where the messages will be as follows….

”You sprayed our tree last year and now it won’t flower”. Rest assured that if this happens to your tree, it has nothing to do with any applications. Mother Nature is the guilty party.

This situation can also occur when we have an unusually warm January or February. Those flower buds swell early, and then if we get night time freezing temperatures in March, ‘Winter Burn‘ sets in and the buds suffer from the same negative effect.

A lot will depend on the exact varieties of trees that are involved within each species, not to mention things like soil moisture as well as directional exposure in relation to your house or other mature plantings, which may or may not protect them from cold winter winds. Only time will tell as to whether or not your trees will be affected next spring.

Harsh Effects of a Dry Fall

hemlock pine with winter burn

hemlock pine with winter burn

It’s been a dry Fall in the western suburbs, so here are some things you should be aware of:

Other than that 3 inch rainfall we received about four weeks ago, it’s been pretty dry since June. Much of that rain quickly ran off the ground and into the sewers as the ground was so dry the rain simply sheeted away.  Hopefully we will soon get into a Fall weather pattern that will bring much needed moisture to the trees and shrubs prior to Winter. But what if it stays relatively dry?

If your conifers, (pine or evergreen trees and shrubs) go into the Winter without sufficient moisture stored inside them they might suffer severe needle browning either during the Winter or early next Spring. This situation, called ‘Winter Burn‘, could cause certain sections of the tree, or the entire tree, to suffer severe browning. If the tree or shrub is really low on moisture a severely cold, windy Winter could even kill it.

White Pine, Spruce, Scotch and Austrian Pine, Hemlocks, Mugho Pine and Arborvitae are just a few examples of conifers that should be watered.

Don’t worry too much about the really large older trees as they are too big to efficiently water. Also, older trees have a more expansive and dense root system allowing more water storage capacity. Do pay particular attention to your younger trees however. Younger trees and shrubs, especially those planted within the last 5 years or so, should be given special watering attention as their root systems will not be as fully developed.
Conifers need to have plenty of stored water in their roots and needles because they do not go completely dormant in the Winter like deciduous (leafy) trees and shrubs do. If they go into the Winter without sufficient moisture the plant suffers.

euonymous with winter burn

euonymus with winter burn

In addition, shrubs that retain their leaves all Winter long such as Boxwoods, Euonymus, Azalea’s and Rhododendron should also be thoroughly watered.

Your neighbors might think you are a little crazy if they see your sprinklers running in November but if they ask, share this knowledge with them. You will be doing them a favor. For the record, watering can be done right up until December as trees and shrubs continue absorbing water and nutrients until the ground freezes.

If you have an underground automatic watering system that is due to be winterized find out when winterization is due to happen. Water everything thoroughly just prior to the system being shut down for the Winter. If it has already been shut down, or will be soon, pull out the old fashioned hose and sprinkler.

For tips on proper watering here is a direct link to our website covering that topic.

Save Your Trees and Shrubs from Winter Burn

Winter Burn On Evergreen

We are already noticing “browning needles” on a variety of trees and shrubs including Conifers, Pine Trees, and Evergreens.  We also see browning on leafy plants like Euonymous, Boxwood, and other trees and shrubs which keep their leaves all winter long.  It was unusual to start seeing this damage while we were still in the grasp of winter, but, due to this year’s unusually cold polar vortices, we were seeing continued damage in many locations.

What Causes Winter Burn?

Winter Burn results when air temperatures rise for short periods of time over the winter and plants begin creating food and energy from within, through the process of photosynthesis.  In doing so they release large amounts of water through their leaves and/or needles as they warm, but since the ground and roots remain frozen, and roots cannot absorb water when frozen, the plant cannot replenish the lost moisture which results in browning.

It is important to remember, every fall, to make sure to thoroughly water your trees and shrubs just prior to ground freeze unless we have had ample rainfall.  Having trees and shrubs fully loaded with water going into the winter greatly reduces or eliminates Winter Burn.

What Can You Do About It?

If you notice browning on any of your trees or shrubs, what can you do now?  Water thoroughly, as soon as the ground thaws.  Many home owners mistakenly think that melting snow adds substantial soil moisture in springtime, helping their trees and shrubs.

This is unfortunately not true. Why? Obviously the ground is frozen all winter long so melting snow runs off into the sewers, rivers and lakes before the ground can thaw enough for much absorption to take place.  Therefore, as soon as the ground does thaw, if we do not receive normal amounts of spring rain soon thereafter, water your plants at that time.  Doing so will limit some of the Winter Burn damage that has yet to appear.

When Should You Water?

How can you tell if the ground is ready to absorb water?  Step a shovel into the ground.  If it easily penetrates at least 6 to 8 inches, it’s time to water.

Will Winter Burn Kill Plants?

In some instances, yes.  But don’t be hasty in removing plants.  Wait to see if new growth emerges this spring and into the summer.   If new growth does emerge, much of the damaged foliage will fall from the plant over the summer and the new growth will fill out and rejuvenate the plant over time.

Proper watering, in combination with high quality root fertilization, will go a long way in helping your trees and shrubs to recover.