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Too soon to tell if plants damaged by winter weather

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You might be wondering if your fruit trees and ornamental plants were injured in the recent cold weather.

Rosie Lerner, consumer horticulture specialist at Purdue University, says that at this point, it is probably too soon to know how much damage ornamental plants will sustain. The good news is that plants were fully dormant prior to the recent frigid temperatures.

Most plants that are considered hardy to Central Indiana should have been in pretty good shape going into the severe weather. Considerable insulation was also provided by the snow cover. The very low temperatures paired with high winds might end up causing some dieback of twigs and winter burn on evergreens.

Symptoms of winter damage include blackened shoot and leaf tissue, splitting bark, foliage browning, etc. Species that are marginally hardy will likely suffer dieback or possibly death, but it may not be obvious until spring thaw. Delay major pruning until after the winter damage can be assessed.

Janna Beckerman, Purdue plant pathology specialist, discusses winter damage on her website (www.btny.purdue.edu/Extension/Pathology/PHM/BD).

“Although occasional winter damage is a fact of life for most trees, winter damage that occurs consistently will weaken trees and predispose them to potential insect pests and disease.

“Adequate watering, fertilizing and mulching to improve tree vigor protects the tree from winter damage, or minimizes the impact of such damage when it occurs. Winter damage is unsightly, but is rarely fatal.”

The amount of fruit produced this year by backyard trees and bushes may be reduced due to bud damage. Peter Hirst and Bruce Bordelon, professors of horticulture at Purdue, alert us that, “with the frigid temperatures, damage to fruit crops is likely. We were fortunate in having good snow cover prior to cold temperatures to protect roots.

Trying to predict the amount of bud/tree/vine damage is a little complicated because damage is influenced by many factors including minimum temps, duration of cold temps, acclimation and previous season’s crop load.”

Snow can be a good thing bringing moisture for many landscape plants. Even dormant plants continue to lose moisture from twigs (as water vapor) in the process known as transpiration.

Evergreen plants are at even greater risk when soil moisture is low because they keep their leaves through the winter, thus more transpiration.

And of course too much snow or ice can have a negative effect if branches are loaded down.

Snow can be gently brushed away with a broom. With ice though, the risk of breaking stems is greater, so just leave them be. Shrubs can be bound with twine to hold branches together and hopefully prevent them from splitting apart.

During the winter months, plants can also be damaged by wildlife feeding on tender twigs, bark, and foliage. The best way to minimize damage is to keep the animals from being able to reach your plants by using such items as hardware cloth, plastic or wire around a tree trunk.

Sarah Hanson is the agricultural natural resources extension educator through the Johnson County Purdue Extension. She has a master’s degree in animals and public policy from Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Purdue University. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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