Understanding Winter Burn in Evergreens: Causes, Symptoms, and Care

What Is Winter Burn?

Winter Burn is a common problem in evergreen trees and shrubs during the cold months, particularly in areas with harsh winters. It’s a non-infectious condition caused by a combination of winter weather factors that lead to the drying out, discoloration, and potential death of evergreen foliage. Understanding what Winter Burn is and recognizing the symptoms can help in applying proper care and prevention techniques.

The condition is characterized by a browning or bleaching of the leaves, usually starting at the tips and edges and often most visible on the side of the tree facing the wind. It’s a problem that can make a once vibrant and green evergreen look dull and unhealthy, but it’s often a condition that can be managed and even reversed with proper care.

Causes of Winter Burn

Understanding the underlying causes of Winter Burn in evergreens can help in both prevention and treatment. There are several key factors that can contribute to this condition.

Cold Temperatures

Evergreen leaves continue to lose water throughout the winter, as they do not drop their leaves like deciduous trees. When temperatures drop, especially when it’s sudden and severe, the ground may freeze, making it hard for the tree’s roots to absorb the water it needs to replace what’s lost from the leaves.

Wind Exposure

Wind can exacerbate the drying effect, drawing more moisture out of the leaves and causing them to dry out faster. This is why Winter Burn often appears most prominently on the windward side of the plant.

Sun Exposure

Bright winter sun can warm the leaves, causing them to lose water more rapidly. When combined with frozen soil that prevents water uptake, this can result in significant desiccation.

Poorly Adapted Species

Planting evergreen species that aren’t well-adapted to the local climate can make them more susceptible to Winter Burn. Some species are more prone to this problem than others, especially those not native to cold regions.

Identifying Symptoms of Winter Burn

Recognizing the symptoms of Winter Burn is the first step in treating and preventing further damage. Symptoms may vary slightly, but generally include:


Affected leaves will turn brown, yellow, or even a bleached white. The discoloration often starts at the tips or edges of the leaves and may spread inward.

Damage Pattern

Winter Burn often shows a specific pattern of damage, typically more severe on the side facing the prevailing wind or the side most exposed to the sun.


The symptoms may not appear immediately but become evident as winter progresses, often becoming most noticeable in late winter or early spring.

How to Care for Winter Burn in Evergreens

Though it can be distressing to see a beautiful evergreen affected by Winter Burn, there are several strategies to help them recover and prevent future occurrences.


If the damage is not severe, the tree will often recover on its own. But if the damage is substantial, careful pruning of dead or affected foliage can help. It’s important to wait until late winter or early spring to prune, as premature pruning can cause further stress.


Ensuring proper watering in late fall before the ground freezes can help the tree store up the moisture it needs. If winter is dry, watering the tree on warmer days when the ground isn’t frozen can also be beneficial.


Planting a windbreak or using burlap screens to shield evergreens from prevailing winds can make a significant difference in preventing Winter Burn.


Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the tree can help the soil retain moisture and moderate temperature extremes.

Proper Plant Selection

Choosing evergreen species that are well-adapted to the local climate will make them less susceptible to Winter Burn. Consulting with a local nursery or extension service can provide valuable guidance in selecting appropriate species.

Preventive Measures

While Winter Burn can be treated, prevention is often the best strategy.

Planting Location

Choosing a location that shields the evergreen from prevailing winds and excessive sun can reduce the risk of Winter Burn. Consider the microclimate of your garden when planting.

Avoid Late Season Fertilizing

Fertilizing late in the season can promote new growth that won’t have time to harden off before winter, making it more susceptible to Winter Burn.

Anti-Desiccant Sprays

Some gardeners find success using anti-desiccant sprays, which create a thin protective layer on the leaves, reducing water loss.

Winter Burn in evergreens is a complex problem with several contributing factors. Recognizing the symptoms, understanding the underlying causes, and implementing both preventive and restorative measures can go a long way in keeping your evergreens healthy and vibrant. By taking these steps, it’s possible to minimize the impact of this common winter problem and enjoy the beauty of evergreens in your landscape year-round.