Shrubs can take a beating in winter. The wind can break branches. Snow piled on top of them can bend branches over, even to the ground. Overly saturated soil can cause the whole shrub to lean while frequent freeze/thaw cycles can cause them to come right out of the ground. Evergreen shrubs may have brown patches from winter burn.
The time to make some repairs is as soon after the damage occurs and weather permits. Others should be held off until spring. Here is some of the common winter damage to shrubs and repairs that can be made:
• Snow bends shrub branches. Resist the temptation to knock the snow off. This can cause them to spring back and could result in internal cracking. Wait for the snow to melt. Usually, the branches will gradually return to their normal shape. Just be patient. If spring comes and they haven’t returned to their natural shape, you can try tying them together. If that doesn’t work, the sagging branches will have to be removed.
• Branches break. Broken branches need to be pruned or removed. When the weather permits, cut the broken branch just above the first live bud or leaf that’s below the break. If the branch is too badly damaged, remove it at the base. DON’T leave stubs. If in doubt whether a branch is alive, lightly scratch the bark. If the next layer is green, it’s alive. If it’s gray, it’s dead.
• Brown patches appear on needled evergreens and leaves wilt on broadleaf evergreens. These indicate winter burn due to desiccation (drying out). The wind blew water given off through the leaves/needles before the shrub could reabsorb it and reuse it in photosynthesis. The first day above 40 degrees, spray your evergreens with antidesiccant to reduce the chance of further winter burn. Broadleaf evergreens will drop their winter burned leaves and may fill in the area with new leaves. If not, prune the dead foliage and wood. Burned needles won’t regenerate, so the brown areas have to be pruned.
• Critter browsing. Branches that deer have chewed on can be pruned back to live buds. Branches low on a shrub that are chewed by rodents may recover on their own in the spring, unless they’ve girdled the branch by chewing all the way around it. In that case, the branch should be removed.
• Frost heave. This condition is caused by freezing and thawing of the ground. Shallow rooted shrubs can actually be pushed up out of the ground. Those that aren’t completely out of the ground may be able to be pushed back into place when the ground is thawed. Those that are pushed completely out of the ground or that will not go back in should be replanted when the ground thaws.
All of the do-it-yourself information above pertains only to shrubs, although much of the same winter damage applies to trees as well. Repairing trees, however, is too dangerous. The only winter damage repair to trees we recommend is contacting us to request an arborist to inspect your trees and make repair recommendations. Our arborists can also repair your shrubs if you’d rather not do it yourself.