How to Protect Evergreens in the Winter

If you’re like most people, you probably thought evergreens don’t need protecting. They’re beautiful with snow piled on the branches. They lend color to a landscape that might otherwise be filled with only shades of grey and brown. But broadleaf evergreens and conifers can suffer from winter damage called desiccation. In simple terms, desiccation means drying out. Some people refer to it as “winter burn.”

Broadleaf Evergreens

It will help to know what plants fit in this category. Broadleaf evergreens include:

  • Azalea
  • Rhododendron
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Holly
  • Boxwood
  • Viburnum
  • Camelia
  • Gardenia


Conifers are evergreen trees, but not every evergreen tree is a conifer. They include:

  • Arborvitae
  • Juniper
  • Pine
  • Cedar
  • Cypress

Both broadleaf evergreens and conifers are most at risk for winter damage such as desiccation if the are new plantings, or if you neglected to mulch and water them deeply in the fall. Deep watering encourages the roots to go deep during the growing season. That can actually prevent desiccation on more established evergreens.

Desiccation can happen when the ground starts to freeze. This prevents a plant’s roots from taking up water in the ground. As a result, the plant uses all of the water stored in its leaves and stems, and so the plant begins to dry out. The leaves may appear scorched – hence the nickname “winter burn.”

Spraying an Anti-Desiccant Can Help Protect Evergreens in the Winter

An anti-desiccant is a spray that provides a protective coating that helps evergreen shrubs and trees retain moisture throughout the winter. However, applying it too early will cause more harm than good.

When the mercury drops in the fall, plants begin to prepare for dormancy. They do this by transferring water from the foliage to the root system. If you apply an anti-desiccant before a plant goes dormant, it will trap water in the leaves. The leaves will then eventually freeze, causing cellular rupturing. The entire plant could die.

That’s why it’s important to pick the best time to spray. It’s usually best to wait until early December. Pick a day when the temperature is between 40 and 50 F° with no immediate chance of rain in the forecast. The evergreen foliage needs to be dry before you spray, and have enough time to dry without rain washing it off.

You won’t need to spray every single evergreen you have, but you will want to spray new plantings and your favorite specimens. Spray all of the foliage thoroughly, including the underside of the leaves. The anti-desiccant provides a thin, waxy film over the leaves or needles, which keeps the foliage from drying out.

Follow product instructions carefully!

And good luck! You can also ask your landscaping services team what they advise as far as how to protect evergreens in winter.

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