Winter Damage Trees

It was a very tough winter for plants in the Great Falls area and we have observed a large number of trees and shrubs were badly damaged. Some plants may recover but many, we have noticed, are almost entirely dead and will probably need to be removed and replaced.

We suspect the damage was caused by the extreme temperature drop we experienced in early February. Great Falls had unusually mild temperatures January but on February 2nd the bottom fell out. The temperature fell 66 degrees in one day and the sub-zero cold stuck around for the next 31 days.

Obviously, not all plants were damaged but some species were hit hard. In particular, types that seem to have suffered the worst damage are:

     -Apples and flowering crabapples


     -Pears – both ornamental and eating types

     -Tree lilacs and some lilac shrubs


Plus, some maple, cotoneaster, larch, and other types have been observed with severe damage.

Pines were the first trees to exhibit obvious damage but, fortunately, we think most of these will recover. We have noticed many trees in the listed groups that have survived and some varieties in particular did better than others. Also, the damage was not limited to younger trees as we are seeing many mature trees—some 15-40 years old—that have been killed.  

The primary buds on many trees have died but the tree may have the ability to produce secondary (adventitious) shoots, so some trees that do not have leaves right now may still recover. Many shrubs that have died will send up new shoots at the base and will recover in one or two seasons but you should cut all of the dead branches off as soon as possible.

Early Spring Watering Tips

The ground is probably saturated in most places with the snow and rain we have received. If we dry out and the top 4" of your soil is dry, water any plants younger than 5 years old (especially evergreens) until you resume your normal watering routine in the spring.

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Spring Gardening Tips

General Maintenance

  • Spring is a great time to top-dress your soil with compost and bark mulch.

    If you didn't fertilize in the fall, it is a good time to fertilize trees and shrubs with Ross Fertilizer Stakes.

  • Now is a great time to fertilize your landscape beds with Osmocote Fertilizer for worry-free season long coverage.

  • You can apply Tree & Shrub Systemic Insect Control for a full year of protection against insect pests.

  • Don't forget to apply a pre-emergent weed control such as Preen or Weed Impede for landscape beds and Bonide Weed Beater Complete for lawns.

What to Prune Now

  • If you haven't cut back perennials and ornamental grasses, be sure to do so now before the new growth emerges.

  • It is also a good time to prune most trees and shrubs, with the exception of spring-blooming trees and shrubs such as fruit trees, lilacs and hawthorns.

  • Prune shrub roses when buds are beginning to sweell to asses winter die-back. You can clean-up older roses by removing 1/3 of the oldest, thickest canes back to the ground.

What to Prune Later

  • Most evergreens can be pruned at any time, but if you desire a formal sheered look to your evergreens, prune after new growth has stopped, but before the new shoots harden (June).

  • Wait until leaves open up on maples, elms, birch and walnut trees to avoid excessive "bleeding" of sap. The bleeding is harmless, but unsightly.


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