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Winter is particularly difficult on broad-leaved evergreens, such as rhododendrons, mountain laurels, boxwoods, azaleas and hollies, because their leaves are large and remain intact through the colder months. The bigger leaves on these plants have many leaf pores, which makes them more prone to drying out in winter. This is especially true if we don’t get any precipitation for long periods of time or if the ground remains frozen and water is unavailable to them.
Anti-desiccant products, such as Wilt-Pruf, protect evergreens from drying winter winds. They’re used to stave off water loss through the winter months and during times of stress. They work by sealing the tiny pores on a leaf’s surface and thereby preventing water vapor from exiting through them. Most of these products are made from the natural resin of pine trees.
Spraying broad-leaved evergreens with an anti-desiccant product helps prevent the symptoms of dehydration, including leaf browning, winter die-back and curled leaves. Anti-desiccants are best applied to both upper and lower leaf surfaces on a day where temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees F and rain is not predicted for 24 hours. Needled conifers need to be fully dormant before application, so with these plants, it’s best to wait until December. Read the label well before use, as anti-desiccants cannot be used on certain plants without causing issues with leaf discoloration and leaf drop. Apply only to the plants specified on the label.
Because anti-desiccants break down as the winter progresses, a second mid- or late-winter application is also a good idea. Choose a day well above freezing and when the weather is predicted to stay above freezing for a day or two.
Wilt-Pruf and other anti-desiccants are also useful for keeping fresh Christmas greens from drying out too quickly. Simply dunk your wreathes, garlands and cut evergreen boughs in a tub of water with the anti-desiccant added, or spray the greens with the product until they’re soaked, then shake off the excess moisture, allow them to dry, and use them indoors or out.
2. Liberal Watering
If you don’t want to go the anti-desiccant route but are interested in protecting your broad-leaved evergreens from drying winter winds, be sure to keep all your trees and shrubs well-watered through the winter months. This is especially true for newly planted or transplanted specimens. Add any necessary supplemental irrigation on warmer days when the top few inches of soil are less likely to be frozen and the water can soak in.
3. Burlap Shield
Another way to protect evergreen shrubs is to surround the entire plant with a shield of burlap. Hammer a circle of 1-by-1-inch stakes about a foot away from the plant, and use a staple gun to attach a ring of burlap to the stakes, effectively forming a wind block around the plant’s perimeter. Don’t cover the top of the shrub, as a heavy snowfall could crush the plant. Plus, if snow collects within the burlap ring, it will actually help insulate the plant and further protect it from drying winds.
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