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.

Last Year’s Drought has Lasting Effect

We were delighted to have been on the front page of the Chicago Tribune in their story covering the effects of the 2012 drought on our trees and shrubs. Tree Green’s 40 year Certified Arborist and President, Craig Casino, was quoted along with experts from the Morton Arboretum as well as the Illinois Cooperative Forestry Extension Service.

This article was well written and worth reading. The only thing the article did not cover was an explanation as to what homeowners should do now to protect trees that have been damaged over the past 4 years.

When one considers that 2009, 2010 and 2011 were excessively wet, followed by the drought of 2012, it is important to note that both situations are highly damaging to root systems.  As State of Illinois forestry expert Jay Hayek states at the end of the story, “trees will be struggling to recover for the next 5-7 years and may die during that time frame if their root systems cannot recover in time”.

So how can you help your trees to recover? 

Keep your trees watered going into the winter and during summer dry spells, and make sure they have the proper nutrients. This is especially true for any individual trees that are of particular importance on your property.
Tree Green performs pressurized root fertilization. Fall is actually the best time of year to feed your trees!

Bright yellow Maple leaves are a sign of disease

Check out this photo of a Maple tree with bright yellow leaves. Although it might look somewhat normal, the ONLY variety of tree that is supposed to have yellow leaves is the Sunburst Locust. Any other tree with yellow leaves is sick. Clay soil and/or excessive watering (via watering systems that activate every 2 or three days) are usually the cause.

Many trees, especially Maples, do not deal well with heavy clay soils. If you have a Maple that never seems to grow and whose leaves seem lime green or yellow, then it is telling you it is dying.

We have tried a variety of treatments to fix yellowing Maples to no avail. We can feed them to extend their lives, but they will never mature into large, majestic trees if they are exhibiting lime green or yellowing leaves when they are young. Proper tree selection, planting and watering techniques are crucial. If you would like further information regarding these categories, let us know. We will be happy to guide you.