Winter and Frost Damaged Plants


SunscaldWinter and frost damaged plants can occur on many plants. A rapid temperature drop following a mid-winter thaw can cause bark splitting. Dead twigs and branches in the spring may be the result of ice and snow damage from the winter. Injury during the winter or early spring season can be from frost or freeze injury. Permanent damage occurs when conditions are severe, prolonged, or when temperatures change suddenly.

Leaf Scorch

Leaves curl up then droop, as well as brown from the tips. This gives the leaves a scorched appearance. Damage is most severe on shallow rooted plants such as:

  • Azalea
  • Rhododendron
  • Holly Variety Plants
  • Boxwood
  • Mountain laurel

Damage occurs on dry, windy, warm or sunny winter days when the ground is frozen. Plants are unable to move water from frozen soil to replace water lost from the leaves.  Heavy accumulations of de-icing salts can cause leaf scorch similar to winter damage. and may kill buds and branch terminals.

Pruning Too Soon

Damage occurs during the winter months but symptoms appear in the spring. It’s important to note that while a branch may have dead leaves hanging from it due to frost damage, the branch itself may not be dead. Plant begins to emerge from the winter dormant period. For this reason, you may want to wait a few weeks past your last average frost date to see where new growth occurs, instead of cutting your plant back more than needed.

Tree Damage

Ice and snow damage can result in bent or broken limbs from heavy weight of snow and ice. Gently remove snow from shrubs. Do not attempt to remove ice from shrubs because ice laden branches are brittle and likely to break.

  • Sunscald – When tender plant parts are exposed to massive amounts of strong sunlight, the softer parts of the plant can become damaged. This will result in withered brown spots on the leaves, stems and trunks
  • Frost cracks occur when temperature fluctuations are extreme. Water in the cells of the tree trunk freezes and moves out of the cells, causing the wood to shrink. The crack can form burlapsuddenly, and is often combined with a loud cracking sound. Damage to tree trunks in most likely on the south and west sides of the tree where the sun is strongest.

Prevention Methods

  • The ideal method to prevent winter injury is to select plants that are hardy in your area.
  • Damage can be reduced by locating plants in partially shaded areas protected from winter winds.
  • Physical barriers about 18 inches away on the windward side of young trees to reduce winter injury.
  • Barriers made from materials such as burlap or plastic can lessen winter wind damage by reducing wind velocity.

A little preparation and planning will keep you plants protected during the winter season. By the time spring rolls around you will be ready for the spring clean upJCs Landscaping will be ready to assist you in preparation for the growing season.

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D Boone

Love the outdoors. Unlucky in real estate but lawn and gardening I can excel at.

2 thoughts on “Winter and Frost Damaged Plants

  1. The leaf scorch here defines just the plants at my backyard – curly leaves that droop. Talking about the preventive measures, I don’t think I can destroy these crops despite their frustrated looks. Perhaps, I’ll seek for hardy crops that thrive in my area when next I want to grow some plants.

  2. I get concerned every year because the weather patterns have been erratic the last few years. There could be a cold spell only to have unseasonably warm weather followed by a cooling down or even deep freeze. Thanks for identifying some of the issues such as leaf scorch and pruning too soon. No one likes to lose their beautiful trees and plants after years of nurturing.

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