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Consumer Horticulture

Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Yard and Garden News

Cold, Windy Weather Affects Plants

By B. Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist

Many gardeners are seeing the effects of recent cold snaps and extreme wind conditions. The obvious effects include breakage of plants and tree and shrub limbs. But also related to recent storms is the drying effect of high winds on flowers and foliage.

Leaves, and in some cases, the petals of flowers, on shrubs, trees and other garden plants will appear burned, particularly around the edges of the leaf. The symptoms are very similar to leaf scorch caused by extended drought and heat. In all of these cases, even if soil moisture is plentiful, the leaves are losing water faster then they can take it up. Leaves that were in the bud can still be affected, though the tighter the bud, the more protected the inner tissue will be.

Fortunately, plants should be able to outgrow this type of damage because it's usually not very practical to try and prevent damage during these short-term bouts of cold and wind.

In the case of breakage, a bit of corrective pruning may be in order. Hand shears are used on branches up to a quarter-inch in diameter. Lopping shears are used on branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter. Pruning saws are used on thicker branches.

Branches that were damaged, but not broken off completely, may continue to dry out and die back over time. It's best to prune out affected branches by cutting back to a side bud or branch. Small, low-growing branches are relatively easy to remove from a tree, especially if you have appropriate tools. For larger limbs, or those that are too far out of reach, consider hiring an arborist.

Jagged edges left where branches broke off should be pruned with a clean cut to allow proper healing. This does not need immediate attention, but should be done before spring growth.

People often ask if they need to apply pruning paint or wound dressing after pruning. There is some controversy regarding these products, but generally they have not been shown to be helpful and may, in fact, interfere with the plant's natural ability to seal off wounds with callous tissue.

In most wind storms, the trees hit hardest are weak-wooded species such as silver maples, Siberian elms and willows. In many cases, topping causes trees to regrow numerous weak branches that are often the first to break during storms.

For more information on pruning, contact a Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service office and ask for bulletin HO-4, "Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs." For an arborist, look in the local phone directory under tree service. It is wise to get several estimates and references of others who have used the tree service before signing a contract for work.

Last updated: 10 April 2006
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