My Yard's a Mess! What's Happened to My Plants?

MAR 28

Is your yard a hot mess? Don't worry, you're not alone! This winter has done its fair share to test the limits of your shrubs and trees. Our stores have received several calls from folks particularly concerned with the status of their evergreens. While things might look bleak, there is good news: Most winter damage will correct itself in time - and with warm weather... if it ever shows up!!

Dehydrated leaves

The unlucky targets which seem to have taken the biggest hit are the "broadleaf evergreens." Instead of needles, these evergreens have large leaves and include plants such as hollies, magnolias, rhododendrons, laurels and camellias. With a large exposed surface, the winter winds can easily dry out the moisture in the leaves. Dehydrated leaves will turn yellow, then brown, eventually falling off to be replaced by new growth. This process can take several months. So if your broad leaf evergreens are looking less than "ever-green," don't pronounce them dead quite yet; wait until May when the weather warms up and you should be able to spot new growth.

In the semi-evergreen category (plants that generally keep most of their leaves in the winter), you may notice shrubs like nandina (heavenly bamboo) look a little naked. Don't be surprised; the excessive winter winds have caused many semi-evergreens to lose all of their leaves. Your nandina plants should be fine, but you may not see new growth until mid-May.

Rabbit damage

As difficult as the winter has been for us humans, animals have had it rough too - and this time it's not just the deer to blame. Rabbits and voles have caused a lot of damage this year. The near-constant layers of snow we've had on the ground gave our small furry friends an upward boost, allowing them to snack on branches they normally wouldn't be able to reach. I watched as a rabbit ate every leaf from my dwarf azalea plant! Voles, who normally tunnel in loose mulch and leaf litter, have been tunneling around in the snow this winter feeding on any plants they run into along the way - including the bottoms of evergreens like spruce and hollies.

Ice was also a huge factor in damage this winter. The ice storm we experienced last month took a toll on larger trees. Be sure to inspect all of your trees and shrubs for broken branches. Use the pruning diagrams from the International Society of Arboriculture's website as a reference. Do not use pruning sealants.

If you have evergreens planted near a road and notice browning, think about how much salt and other chemicals were used on the roadways this winter. For the past several months, record amounts of salts and chemicals were applied to roadways and sidewalks. Salt leeching into the soil will cause damage to root systems of plants and will become evident this spring. The Maryland Extension service recommends running a soluble salt test on your soil and, if the salt levels are elevated, to apply gypsum to the soil.

This has been one heck of a long winter and our yards have borne the brunt of it. But soon enough the sun will shine and temperatures will rise. New growth will emerge and the fresh newness of spring will abound. We are all ready for some warm weather, and our plants could not agree more!