Why Should We Worry About Winter Burn?

Winter burn is something that can be prevented if the proper precautions are taken.


Winter burn is a very real threat to new shrubs and evergreens that have not been properly watered or given enough care in their establishing period. Establishing a new planting is especially important when heading into the winter months. We are going to give you some recommendations on how to identify winter burn, how to prevent it, how to fix it, and why it’s crucial to get your new plantings properly established. 


What Does Winter Burn Look Like? 

Winter burn can show itself in various ways, depending on what it has affected. Winter burn on evergreens can look like brown and brittle needles, or patches of brown that were hit particularly hard. The twigs and branches may snap easily and the needles will fall off with a touch. On shrubs, the leaves can be red or brown, crunchy and dry. The twigs will also snap off easily, depending on how much the shrub has been affected. All of this damage will have to be trimmed off because a good general rule is that green never comes from brown, but more on that later.


Wallace's Garden Center-Should We Worry About Winter Burn-winter burn evergreen

Why Should We Care About Winter Burn?

To put it simply, if winter burn holds a strong enough grip on a new planting, it may be lost altogether, but a small amount is simple enough to correct. It is essential to properly establish new plantings because this vulnerable period leaves plants open to various threats that can be prevented with proper care and ongoing maintenance. 

Why It’s Essential to “Establish” a New Planting

To establish a new shrub or evergreen means to get the root system settled into its new home, and this takes 2-3 years on average to do. How do you establish new plantings? Water it, and provide proper soil and light conditions. It’s imperative to water consistently and thoroughly in the first few years of planting. It is especially crucial to give new evergreen plantings a good soak before the ground freezes, to ensure the roots don’t dry out underground. Developing the root system and making it robust is the best way to ensure your new planting will have a strong start in its new habitat, and will help to prevent future susceptibilities like winter burn. Happy roots, happy plant…generally.


-watering newly planted shrub evergreen Wallace's garden center

How to Prevent Winter Burn

Preventing winter burn can be done in a few ways:

    1. As we previously mentioned, establishing your new planting by properly and thoroughly watering it is essential. A root stimulator is also a great option to develop robust roots before winter.
    2. Wilt Stop is a fantastic product that can be used going into the cold winter months. This ready-to-use spray can be applied once a year, and will provide a protective, transparent coating on your evergreen that will help to withhold moisture on its foliage. We recommend applying the spray before the winter months, to best prevent winter burn and moisture loss. 
    3. Some new plantings will best benefit by being covered or protected using burlap, or a frost blanket/material. With this option however, it is important to remember that covering something completely will prevent it from getting any sun. This can be a good option when heading into some especially cold periods with particularly vulnerable varieties, but coverings can be removed when the temperatures aren’t too severe. 


Wallace's Garden Center-Should We Worry About Winter Burn-winter burn on cedar

How to Recover From Winter Burn

A good general rule is that you will not get green from brown, so check your planting and see how bad the damage is. Be patient with pruning in spring, and ensure the shrub or evergreen has new growth before snipping off the bits that have died from the winter burn. To identify exactly what needs to be trimmed, you should see brown and brittle leaves or needles, and you should trim the planting back to where it is green on the inside. If the twig snaps and there is no malleability, it is dead and can be trimmed. Only trim back to where the twig is alive, you can scratch the bark to see what color is underneath it, then trim back to where the green starts. 


If you have any questions or reservations about how to identify, prevent, or treat winter burn, come talk to our expert staff at Wallace’s Garden Center in Bettendorf, and we will give you the advice and recommendations needed to keep your new plantings healthy, and prevent the annoying threat of winter burn.  

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