Vans Pines Nursery, Inc

Winter Conifer

Winter Conifer Damage: What it is and How To Avoid It

As spring is in full effect, several growers have been noticing what’s called “winter conifer damage” on their conifers. And lately, we’ve been receiving multiple questions about this, what it looks like, and how to prevent it. In this blog, we’ll be addressing those questions and offering some advice to conifer growers on how to prevent winter damage.

How does winter conifer damage happen?

Winter damage to conifers happens when conifers receive too much sunlight during their dormant months. When warmer than normal temperatures present themselves and the sun shines during prolonged periods of the winter season, conifers will begin to come out of their dormancy to try to draw up moisture from the soil to grow.

However, most soil during the winter is very dry. Because the conifer is trying to draw up moisture that is not present, “winter damage” is caused. Winter damage to conifers is something that can happen to both seedling and adult trees alike. This damage is more common in Midwest states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and others due to the increasingly inconsistent weather patterns. Fortunately, with Vans Pines’ proximity to Lake Michigan, we get enough cloud cover and lake effect snow to minimize this type of damage on our conifers.

What does winter damage look like?

When winter conifer damage happens, the conifer will portray characteristics of browning and dry needles on the side of the tree receiving the sun, typically West. If planted where there is snow, the areas of the conifer below the snow will not be affected due to the snow acting as a protective layer against the sun. However, anything above the snow and receiving intense sun will likely turn brown, brittle, and dry from trying to draw moisture from the soil that isn’t present.

William Jacobi, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

How can you prevent winter damage from happening?

Winter damage to conifers is not always preventable. However, here are some top tips on things that could reduce the risk of your conifers getting winter damage:

  • Ensure that you understand the type of trees that can be planted in your zone area. Check out this zone map from the USDA to learn which zone you’re in. Then research which conifers would be best suited to plant within your zone.
  • Keep your weeds controlled around your conifers so that they are not drawing up excess moisture needed for your trees.
  • Spread mulch around the base of the trees to help with:
    • Regulating freezing and thawing ground temperatures.
    • Maintaining moisture.
    • Keeping weeds and other plant competition down.
  • Avoid fertilizing too late in the season. If you fertilize towards the end of the season, your conifers may be prompted to draw up excess moisture to grow when they actually should be gearing up to go into dormancy. If an unexpected frost comes, this could greatly damage the new buds of the conifers.
  • Avoid pruning your conifers later in the season as this could also trigger the conifers to start growing again, soaking up excess moisture from the dry soil.
  • Some conifer homeowners may want to consider loosely wrapping burlap around their trees during the winter months to protect them from the sun.
  • Be sure you provide your conifers with plenty of water throughout the fall. Good rules of thumb include:
    • Providing an inch of water per week per established conifer.
    • Providing two inches of water per week per newly planted conifer.
    • When doing this, be sure to use a soaker hose or a drip line rather than an overhead hose. This will help get water to the root systems better.
    • Review and know your soil type. Your soil type can affect the amount of water that is needed. For example, if you have sandy soil, you may need to water more frequently than those with heavy clay soil.

Is all lost when your conifers have winter damage?

Luckily, winter conifer damage doesn’t happen every year or to every tree. Overall, it depends on the temperature, amount of sun, amount of snow, and the moisture level in your soil. Fortunately, some conifers can come back from winter damage. However, as the damaged needles die off, the healthy buds surrounding it will not, causing a less-full side of the conifer that can cost additional growing years to fill in.

Start Growing Genetically Superior Trees

We hope you found this information valuable. If you have any questions about winter conifer damage or how to grow genetically superior trees, please let us know by clicking here to email us or giving us a call at (800) 888-7337.

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Irrigation & Weed Control

Not sure which program to choose? If the amount of irrigation and weed control is a deciding factor, the chart below shows which programs require the most care to the least care.

Most Care

Least Care

Jiffy Plugs

(36mm & 50mm)

Husky

(Bare Root Transplants)

1 Year Container

(Peat Quart, Super Potted Gallon, Peat Gallon)

Jumbo Husky

(Bare Root Transplants)

2 Year Container

(Peat Quart, Super Potted Gallon, Peat Gallon)

3-4 year Container

(Super Potted 3 Gallon)

Irrigation & Weed Control

Not sure which program to choose? If the amount of irrigation and weed control is a deciding factor, the chart below shows which programs require the most care to the least care.

Most Care

Jiffy Plugs

(36mm & 50mm)

Husky

(Bare Root Transplants)

1 Year Container

(Peat Quart, Super Potted Gallon, Peat Gallon)

Jumbo Husky

(Bare Root Transplants)

2 Year Container

(Peat Quart, Super Potted Gallon, Peat Gallon)

3-4 year Container

(Super Potted 3 Gallon)

Least Care