Prepping Your Evergreens for Winter

Main Content Evergreens under snow

Now that we’re preparing to do battle with winter with its snow, sleet, winds and blizzard conditions, it’s time to think about preparing your evergreens for the onslaught ahead. Before the first snow hits and the ground becomes frozen, it’s important to spend a little extra time getting your evergreens ready for Mother Nature and her wrath.

Watering

There are some important considerations to think about while preparing coniferous evergreen trees and shrubs for winter. Evergreen needles and leaves are thick and often waxy to reduce water loss. Until the ground freezes, evergreens, and even deciduous trees and shrubs, need regular watering to ensure they are fully hydrated. Plants that go into the winter drought stressed will suffer the most.

All evergreens are susceptible to something called winter desiccation. Winter desiccation is referred to as winter burn or winter browning. Desiccation occurs when the evergreen’s foliage loses moisture due to the bright winter sun and harsh winter winds. In winter the plants are not able to absorb enough additional moisture from the soil to replace the water that evaporates from the foliage and stems.

Anti-transpirants can help the cause of lost moisture. These products are available at many garden centers and can be sprayed on plants once winter arrives. They create a thin film over the leaves and stems and reduce the amount of water that can evaporate.

Wrapping

Wind damage and snow load can affect evergreens because they tend to accumulate more snow that leafless deciduous trees. Their needles provide more resistance to wind so damage from strong winds is more likely.

Protection measures include loosely wrapping the evergreen with burlap or protecting the windward side of the evergreen with some type of screen. This includes several firm wood stakes in the ground on which to attach the burlap as screens. The screens should be somewhat higher than the plant. Place one screen on the south side and one screen on the south-west side.

In addition to desiccation damage, evergreens such as arborvitae and junipers are susceptible to breakage from snow build-up and ice storms. Cedars and upright junipers can be tied so that individual stems do not bend down when snow accumulates on the trees. You can loosely wrap these plants with rope or twine to keep all of the branches tied together to prevent splits and breakage. Using a soft but sturdy material to tie the trees into tight cones will enable them to withstand heavy snow loads with little ill effect. You can also gently shake the shrubs to remove snow so it does not continue to accumulate as it is falling and weigh the shrubbery down and split.

Newly Planted Shrubs

Newly planted shrubs are just as susceptible to sunscald as young trees. The chance for damage increases if they were pruned in the fall, exposing trunk tissue. Consider wrapping the trunk with a protective material, such as burlap or light-colour corrugated paper. The key is to keep the bark temperature from extremes of cooling and heating. Established trees and shrubs won’t need this protective wrapping unless they have thin bark.

Pruning

Even if all of your best efforts to protect the evergreens don’t work perfectly, there still may be hope for the plants. In the spring after the plant is actively growing, you can prune out and reshape the plant as necessary. You may need to do some additional pruning over time to reshape the plant and increase your winter protection measures for next year. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall. Fall pruned evergreens are more susceptible to winter injury.

Shelter

With winter comes harsh wind and ice. These are the two most important factors to keep in mind when protecting your trees, specifically Japanese Maple trees from the cold winter weather. If it is a smaller tree, you can build a shelter around it using burlap for around the first three years of its life.  For larger trees, you should keep in mind the long-term shelter they will require. When you first purchase your tree, ensure you plan for its location in your landscape. Select a location near your home or find southern exposure with shelter. You can also apply 3-4 inches of mulch around your Japanese Maple tree, but do not apply it right up against the truck. The mulch will help to insulate the root zone and maintain moisture. These simple steps will help to shelter your Japanese Maple trees from the harsh winters.

Be Prepared

You spend a lot of time and money on your landscape. By preparing your evergreens now for the upcoming winter season, you offer these remarkable plants a better chance for survival and resurgence of new growth in spring.