conley6.gif (2529 bytes)

Damage control
Repair your landscape in the aftermath of winter's wrath


May 2006

Salt damage from ice control products is one of the top problems landscapers see when spring arrives.

If you have ventured out into your yard and are shocked by what the elements have done to your landscaping this winter, donít worry, all is not lost. These area landscaping pros offer solutions for some of the most common cold-weather damage. 

Salt damage

Alan Upstrom of David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. in Germantown says the top problems his clients see in the spring are snow mold and snowplow damage of the turf, along with salt damage from ice-control products. To mend your turf, Upstrom suggests raking up the dead or flattened area of the turf to allow air and moisture to circulate. Upstrom says if the turf has not started to recover itself from its root, then seeding these areas is recommended when soil temps reach 55 degrees.

Salt-damaged turf is also common along the edges of sidewalks and driveways. When the soil temperatures have reached 55 degrees, Upstrom says homeowners can start by digging out approximately 2 to 3 inches of the area that has turned brown and replacing it with fresh soil and new seed.

"Areas that have been scalped or skinned by snowplows may need additional soil," Upstrom says. "If the soil has been removed and the area is low, then sow seed, cover with a mulching material and water regularly."

Limb damage

Gary Urban with Hawkís Nursery Co. Inc. in Wauwatosa says tops on his list include broken branches that may have been damaged by wind or snow/ice. Look for animal damage on the branches of shrubs as well as the bark of shrubs and trees.

"Broken and gnawed branches need to be pruned off cleanly," advises Upstrom. "Use a sharp bypass type pruner or pruning saw to remove the damaged material leaving behind a clean cut with no stub."

Donít give up for dead those plants that remain brown in early spring, experts say. It might take them some time to bounce back.

Plant damage

Urban also suggests that making a plant inventory of the damaged or dead landscaping can help you decide what to use as replacements.

"Donít pass judgment on your plants too early however," says Urban. "Many late-budding but alive perennials and shrubs have been ripped out by impatient homeowners. What looks brown early in the season may be full of color in a few weeks."

Urban also suggests homeowners take time and figure out why a plant may have died over winter ó too much wind, salt or winter sun may be the culprits.

"If you can determine why it died, try to find a plant that can tolerate those conditions. If the cause of death cannot be determined and you really like the original plant, try it again," suggests Urban. "It may have been a coincidence. If it doesnít survive the next winter, then itís time to make another selection."

Urban says knowing how and when to protect your plants is also key.

"A common mistake made is to remove winter protection, such as rose cones, evergreen boughs and tree protection, too early or too late. When the temps are consistently above 40 degrees (day and night) is the time to begin removing protection."

Windburn & heaving

William Wandsnider of Wandsnider Landscape Architects in Menomonee Falls says windburn is a common cause of shrubs, especially arborvitae, to die over winter. Evergreens constantly lose moisture through the winter, which is increased with harsh winds. Plants that are lacking moisture and susceptible to these winds may turn brown and die.

"To help prevent this, give evergreens a good soaking with a hose, a slow trickle from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the plant," says Wandsnider. "A barrier of burlap held up with metal poles will help guard the evergreens from harsh winds. Planting evergreens in more sheltered areas and away from northwest winds will also help avoid windburn."

Wandsnider also says perennials and ground cover, which have shallow roots, can be the victim of "heaving," which may damage roots. He says this is more common in areas around concrete or brick.

"We recommend that you place an insulating cover of evergreen boughs or marsh hay over your beds. Do this around Thanksgiving after several good frosts," Wandsnider advises. "This covering keeps the ground consistently frozen. A rodent bait should be used with any covering to keep them from nesting in the material."