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Environmental Injury: Winter Burn of Evergreens

Environmental Injury: Winter Burn of Evergreens

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Marianne Ophardt, Horticulture Specialist, Washington State University, Rita Hummel, Horticulture Specialist, Washington State University
Trees can suffer all kinds of injury, including damage caused by the environment. Winter burn is one type of environmental injury that occurs on evergreen trees and shrubs when adequate moisture is unavailable. This publication outlines the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of winter burn in evergreens.
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Winter burn is a type of environmental injury that occurs on evergreen trees and shrubs. This includes needled evergreens such as arborvitae, cedar, fir, juniper, pine, spruce, and yew and broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendron, laurel, mahonia, St. Johnswort and boxwood.

Symptoms of Winter Burn

Symptoms of winter burn, also called winter desiccation, range from brown, dry needle tips or leaf edges to the reddening or browning and death of entire needles or leaves (FiguresĀ 1 and 2). Winter burn may not be immediately apparent when it occurs because the affected foliage may not turn brown until the weather warms in late winter or early spring.

When winter burn is extremely severe, the foliage on entire branches and plants can be affected. However, winter burn damage is typically most severe on the sides of the plant more exposed to sun, wind, or both (FiguresĀ 3, 4A, and 4B).

Figure 1. Winter burn injury to the needles of pine. Photo by William Jacobi, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Figure 2. Winter burn injury to leaves of St. Johnswort, a broadleaf evergreen.
Figure 3. The influence of sun-shade patterns on winter burn can be observed on this sunny January day in Pullman, Washington. The glass breezeway is on the east side of Johnson Hall and the broadleaf evergreens to the right (south) side of the picture are exposed to full sun while the plants on the left (north) side of the picture are shaded by a staircase structure.
Figure 4A. Close up of the cherry laurel plants from Figure 3. This plant was located on the north or shaded side of the Johnson Hall landscape and shows no winter burn.
Figure 4B. The cherry laurel plant in this photograph was located on the south or sunny side of the Johnson Hall landscape and shows severe winter burn injury.


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