Minnesota's harsh climate can cause severe damage to landscape plants. Winter sun, wind and cold temperatures can bleach and dry out evergreen foliage, damage bark, and injure or kill branches, flower buds, and roots. Snow and ice can break branches and topple entire trees. Winter food shortages force rodents and deer to feed on bark, twigs, flower buds and leaves, injuring and sometimes killing trees and shrubs. Here are steps you can take to protect trees and shrubs and minimize injury.

Reducing root injury

  1. Cover roots of newly planted trees and shrubs with 3 to 4 inches of shredded wood mulch.
  2. Create a "donut" of mulch by pulling the mulch away from the trunk about 6 inches. This will prevent adventitious roots from forming and ultimately girdling the tree.
  3. If the fall has been dry, water heavily before the ground freezes to reduce frost penetration.
  4. Check new plantings for cracks in the soil and fill them with soil.

Frost heaving

Repeated freezing and thawing of soil in fall or spring causes soil to expand and contract, which can damage roots and heave shrubs and new plantings out of the ground. A 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch will prevent heaving by maintaining more constant soil temperatures.

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Sunscald prevention

  1. Prevent sunscald by wrapping the trunk with white guards to reflect the sun and keep the bark at a more constant temperature.
  2. Use a white commercial tree wrap or plastic tree guards. Do not use brown paper tree wrap or black colored tree guards as they will absorb heat from the sun.
  3. Wrap newly planted trees for at least two winters and thin-barked species up to five winters or more.
  4. Put the wrap on in the fall and remove it in the spring after the last frost.

Reducing animal damage on trees and shrubs

Mice, rabbits, voles and deer can all cause severe damage to plants in the winter by feeding on twigs, bark, leaves and stems. They can eat shrubs to the ground and also girdle trees and shrubs by chewing through the bark. The best overall strategy for protecting your trees and shrubs from animal browsing is to reduce areas of habitat and erect physical barriers to prevent them from getting to your plants.

For more information, read The Yard and Garden news, at extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden/yard-and-garden-news.

Until next time, happy gardening!


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ― Edith Sitwell

Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Contact her at 320-762-3890, or at trot0053@umn.edu.