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Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006 08:27 am

Protecting new evergreens

Take steps now to keep them from drying out during winter


You may plant an evergreen tree in your back yard in July expecting to see it looking perky in the middle of winter, but think again.

Newly planted evergreens are more prone to dehydration through the winter, but with a little extra care your new tree will live to see spring.

“Winter can be harsh,” says James Schuster, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “Long, cold periods with drying winds can help dehydrate the new plants.”

Because evergreens, both needle and broadleaf, maintain live foliage through the winter, the foliage continues to lose moisture even when frozen. If the water loss is too great, the needles or leaves will turn brown as they dehydrate and die.

Several practices may prevent this outcome, Shuster says.

“First, make sure there is plenty of soil moisture before the ground freezes,” he says. “Water the planting hole, as well as a couple of feet of the surrounding soil. Avoid overwatering. Overwatering can drown tree roots, adding to winter kill.”

Consider applying an anti-desiccant/anti-transpirant. Schuster says it’s important to read the product’s label and follow the directions carefully, especially those concerning the temperature at the time you apply the product.

“These products vary in their longevity and effectiveness on the plants,” he says. “Usually a second and sometimes a third application later in the winter are required. When applied correctly, these products can sometimes make the difference on plant survival, as well as appearance the following spring.”

Another way to reduce dehydration is to make a screen to partially block the wind. Use sturdy stakes a couple of feet longer than the plant is high. Pound the stakes into the ground before it begins to freeze.

“How many stakes depends on whether you want a V-shaped screen or a flat screen, as well as how many evergreens were planted,” Schuster says. “Once the ground begins to freeze, nail, staple, or tie a material like burlap, a cheeseclothlike material made out of nylon or other polyester, or even snow fencing to the stakes.

“If using the V-shaped screen around an individual plant, the bottom of the V stake should be directly west of the plant,” Schuster continues. “The other two stakes are to the southeast and to the northeast of the plant. The entire east side of the plant should be left open.”

Schuster says the plant should not be surrounded with protective material.

“This barrier is to reduce the flow of wind through and around the evergreen,” he says. “It is not supposed to stop the wind entirely.

“Make sure light reaches all of the plant, so do not situate the screen so that it touches the plant.”

For more information about the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.

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