Winter Injury – Part 4: October 2019

Salt Damage
Salts used for deicing pavements can cause damage to trees and shrubs. Symptoms of salt damage appear in spring and early summer and include browning of evergreens, leaf scorch, branch die back, and dead areas in turf. Branches and twigs can be killed from aerial deposits, and roots can be damaged from salt remaining in the soil. Salt will leach through well-drained soils, but damage can be extensive in poorly drained soils. Choose salt-tolerant species for sites where salt stress may be a problem.

Damage By Animals
Mice and rabbits often damage young trees in the winter by feeding on the bark and girdling the trees. Damage occurs most commonly when there is prolonged, heavy snow cover, and food is scarce. Rabbits feed on the bark above the snow, while mice feed near the ground level. Mouse damage is usually more severe when the trees are surrounded by heavy grass, weed cover, or heavy mulch, so it is helpful to pull mulch away from trunks and branches. The most effective deterrent to girdling by mice or rabbits is to wrap the trunk and low branches of young trees with screen wire or hardware cloth from below the ground line to high enough above the possible snow line to prevent rabbits from reaching the trunk or branches. To help control mouse damage, maintain an area free of grass or weeds for a 1 to 2 foot radius around the base of the tree. Various chemicals are available to repel mice and rabbits, but are often not reliable in wet weather.

Minimizing Winter Injury

  • Select hardy species and cultivars.
  • Avoid late-summer fertilization or pruning, which might stimulate new growth.
  • Water trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, during dry periods until the ground freezes.
  • Use mulch to conserve soil moisture and insulate the roots from cold temperatures.
  • Protect evergreens from wind and salt spray with burlap screens.
  • Apply anti-desiccant to evergreens starting in late fall, following label instructions.

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