It has been 8 years or more since we’ve seen a winter like the one we’re having now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, long extended cold periods and snow are rare. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to warm up anytime soon, according to the Climate Prediction Center. Already, I’m starting to see some damage on some plants. Why? And what should a gardener do?
Most of the damage that is obvious even now in early January is on broad-leaved evergreens. Many of these plants were probably already drought stressed going into the fall. Then the mild, somewhat wet fall stimulated them to grow a little. That new growth and in some cases, flower buds, were tender and not hardened off when the cold started in early December. The wind that has accompanied the cold dries out the tender foliage, causing it to wither and brown.
Other damage we’ve seen has more to do with rabbits and mice not having access to their normal winter food- roots- due to the ground being frozen. Snow on the ground also allows these vermin to get close to your trees for nibbling.
What can you do?
For evergreens that are showing winter burn, wait. Once spring arrives, you can cut them back to undamaged wood; established healthy plants should rebound and regrow this summer.
For fruit trees and other plants showing rabbit or mouse damage, if the trees are not girdled (nibbled all the way around), most should recover. Putting hardware cloth, chicken wire, or tree guard sleeves around their trunks can help prevent further damage. Make sure the sleeve touches the ground (or even bury it a little).