Assessing winter's toll on your landscape

Spring is beautiful but it's also the season when winter's toll becomes apparent. Whether a winter was brutal or mild, a gardener can stay well ahead of the game by evaluating its effect and acting as quickly as possible in spring to cut losses, provide critical help to plants that were hurt but are salvageable, or stop damage that's still ongoing.

Walk through the landscape with us as we assess the damage after one of the coldest, snowiest winters ever recorded. We'll help you with:

As a long winter ends, it can be a great relief to see the landscape "rise" from the snow. However, what's revealed may sometimes be more troubling than beautiful. Learn here to assess winter damage quickly and make the right moves to help plants recover.

As a long winter ends, it can be a great relief to see the landscape "rise" from the snow. However, what's revealed may sometimes be more troubling than beautiful. Learn here to assess winter damage quickly and make the right moves to help plants recover.

...and for answers in those situations where de-icing salt or snow plowing may have affected plants or soil, jump to our cross-reference links in Winter Damage to Plants.
...and for more vital signs in perennials as well as woody plants, see Overlook proof of life.

In this section we direct you to look at growth buds for viability. The growth bud is a tightly compressed structure on a branch that developed but did not expand during the latter part of the growing season. Instead, it covered itself with resin-filled cap and waited through winter.
As an example, inside each bud on this twig from a white fir (
Abies concolor) is a shoot complete with a year's needles; a bud on a mature limb may also contain an embryonic cone. All the shoot needs is a cue from lengthening days plus water and warmth. If it survived winter it will pop its protective scales and quickly swell to become an 8-inch long branch.

Suddenly in trouble?

During a growing season plants almost always give plenty of signals when something is not right. An observant gardener has time to correct trouble before it's too late.

In spring, problems may follow a different schedule. There is often little time to read the signs and deal with trouble from winter damage. A plant may appear to "suddenly die" or develop severe symptoms "overnight."

Other trouble related to winter damage can be subtle and lingering. For instance, a tree with roots damaged by cold may exhibit the same symptoms that occur when there are nutrient deficiencies in the soil. The gardener who didn't take stock after a tough winter may miss the connection and invest considerable resources in fertilizing, unaware that it's not the best solution.

This 8-piece chapter in our news helps you assess winter damage right away and give you the best chance to reverse what's reversible. Likewise, it will help you recognize the lost causes so you don't spend time and money trying to save the incurable.

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