Evergreen trees and shrubs don’t go completely dormant in the winter like deciduous plants (those that lose their leaves). Their leaves or needles continue to make food through photosynthesis, just at a slower rate. Water, absorbed by their roots, is essential to this reaction. Water is also given off, or transpired, through their needles or leaves.
In winter, when the ground is frozen, evergreens recycle that transpired water to be used again in the photosynthetic reaction. High winds, however, often blow the transpired water off the needles or leaves before it can be reabsorbed, causing that branch to die. This condition is called winter burn and you can identify it by the browning of branches or portions of branches.
The traditional method of protection was to wrap the tree or shrub in burlap. That’s more work than many senior gardeners want, or are able, to do. Well, you don’t have to, except for extremely tender young trees and shrubs. Instead, apply a material called anti-desiccant.
Anti-desiccant is a wax like material that, when sprayed on evergreen needles and leaves, holds transpired water in place until it can be reabsorbed. The best known brand name is Wilt Pruf and you can buy it in garden stores in spray bottles that will cover two or three average size shrubs. That’s about all you’ll want to do. Trust me; your hand will be tired when you’re done applying anti-desiccant from spray bottles.
I’ve been using anti-desiccant for more than 25 years. Each fall I would apply it to two Taxus (Yews) on either end of the headstone at my parents’ graves. I was much younger then and still had to switch hands frequently. Today, I’d need help to do it.
If you have a number of trees and shrubs, especially tall trees, it’s more economical to hire a tree or landscape professional. They’ll use either a powerful truck mounted sprayer or a backpack sprayer. And it should cost you less than buying all those small bottles and expending the energy to apply them. Besides you couldn’t reach the tree tops without using a ladder. Not a good idea for senior gardeners. I’ve had the evergreens in my yard professionally protected since I first heard of anti-desiccant. It’s part of my Plant Health Care contract.
Anti-desiccant is a white liquid but it dries clear. Because it is wax based, you should wait until the temperature’s consistently below 40ºF but before it’s freezing. If you have a mild winter, you may need to touch up some of the plants that get full sun, especially if the temperature gets above 50ºF for any length of time.
I consider anti-desiccant inexpensive insurance for the many evergreen trees and shrubs on my property and recommend it, especially for senior gardeners who want to work smarter rather than harder.
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