Dealing with winter damage to trees and shrubs

Sometime around 2007, the USDA officially changed the winter hardiness planting zones. We changed from a Zone 5 to a Zone 6. What this basically means is we are now considered to be in a warmer growing area than we were. Since this official change, Garden Heights and nurseries in the region have been offering Zone 6 plants. This is a repost from 2014.

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This past winter we experienced a Zone 5, or even a Zone 4 winter. These new Zone 6 plants, aren’t used to the cold temperatures we had. The prolonged cold has certainly damaged or killed many plants throughout the region.

Due to the unusually cold weather, we are two to three weeks behind. You have probably noticed that bulbs are late coming up, and trees that usually flower by now, haven’t started blooming. The soil temperatures have not warmed up yet.

The best advice we can give is to be patient. Don’t dig up those trees and shrubs just yet! Wait two or three weeks before doing anything. Then test to see if the branches are still viable. Start at the end of a branch and break off on prune off a little piece. If the center is brown and brittle, that part of the branch is dead. Continue pruning down the branch. You might just be surprised! If there is some green and the leaves are starting to bud out, your plant is still alive. Another easy test is to scratch off a bit of the bark with your fingernail. Brown dead… green alive!

Once you have determined if your plant is alive, you can prune out the winter damage. We advise fertilizing at that time with a slow release organic fertilizer. Holly-tone is a great fertilizer for acid loving plants like: Boxwoods, Azaleas, Dogwoods and Rhododendrons. For other trees and shrubs, we suggest Plant-tone or Tree-tone. If you aren’t sure what to use, tell us what the tree or shrub is and we will be happy to let you know the best fertilizer to use.

Here are just a few links on pruning trees and shrubs. Check out YouTube. I can guarantee you will find loads of pruning how-to videos!

The Gateway Gardener Magazine – Tree Pruning Basics

Better Home & Garden – What to Prune When

This Old House – How to Prune Small Trees and Shrubs – Loads of links to different types of trees and shrubs on this page.

 Debbie Tolstoi is the webmaster at Garden Heights Nursery, 1605 S. Big Bend Boulevard, Richmond Heights.

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