Winter Burn: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Treating, and Preventing a Common Plant Injury

Winter burn is a type of injury that occurs in many types of plants, especially evergreens, during the winter months. It’s also known as winter desiccation or winter scorch, and it can lead to unattractive foliage and a general decline in the plant’s health. In this guide, we will explore the symptoms, causes, treatments, and preventative measures for winter burn.

Symptoms of Winter Burn

  1. Browning of Foliage: One of the most recognizable symptoms is the browning or reddening of foliage, mainly on the side of the plant that faces the wind.
  2. Leaf Desiccation: The leaves become dry, often curling at the edges.
  3. Bleaching of Needles: In coniferous plants, needles may appear bleached or grayish-green.
  4. Delayed Damage Appearance: Damage may not appear immediately but can manifest in late winter or early spring.

Causes of Winter Burn

  1. Dry Winter Winds: Cold, dry winds can draw moisture from leaves, leading to desiccation.
  2. Frozen Soil: When the soil is frozen, the plant’s roots may be unable to take up water, even though the leaves continue to lose moisture through transpiration.
  3. Sun Exposure: Bright winter sun can cause plant tissues to thaw and lose moisture, only to refreeze and suffer injury when the temperature drops.
  4. Improper Acclimation: A plant that has not properly acclimated to winter conditions may be more susceptible to injury.

Treatment for Winter Burn

  1. Pruning Damaged Areas: Trim back the affected foliage to healthy tissue, but avoid excessive pruning, which could stress the plant further.
  2. Watering: Providing adequate water in the late fall before the ground freezes can reduce the risk.
  3. Avoid Fertilizing: Refrain from fertilizing affected plants in the fall as this can encourage tender growth that’s more susceptible to winter burn.
  4. Monitor Plant Health: Keep a close eye on affected plants during the growing season and provide proper care to help them recover.

Prevention of Winter Burn

  1. Plant Selection: Choose plant species and varieties known to be hardy in your region.
  2. Proper Planting Site: Position plants in locations protected from harsh winter winds.
  3. Watering Practices: Ensure proper watering in the late fall, especially for newly planted or young trees and shrubs.
  4. Mulching: Applying mulch around the base of the plant can help retain soil moisture and protect roots from temperature extremes.
  5. Windbreaks: Installing physical barriers such as burlap screens can protect plants from drying winter winds.
  6. Avoid Late Season Pruning: Pruning in late summer or fall can stimulate new growth, making the plant more susceptible to winter burn.


Winter burn is a common and potentially serious problem for many plants, particularly evergreens. However, understanding the symptoms and causes of this condition is the first step in effective treatment and prevention.

By following best practices in planting, watering, mulching, and protection from harsh winter conditions, gardeners can mitigate the risks of winter burn. Collaboration with local horticultural experts and extension services can provide region-specific insights and recommendations.

Remember, winter burn doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the plant. With proper care and attention, many plants can recover and thrive, even after showing significant symptoms of winter burn. Keep a watchful eye, follow these guidelines, and your garden can remain beautiful and healthy through the challenges of winter.