Damage control in the garden

The Green File - Mark Cullen

Published on April 20, 2014

Mark Cullen demonstrates some of the damage that can be done to your garden after the winter. In his column he gives tips on how to identify and deal with damage in your garden after the winter months.


Your cedars are bent over, recovering from the heavy weight of snow on their branches earlier this winter. Your young apple tree has had the bark nibbled upon by the local rabbit population, which seems to have exploded since the autumn. The yew hedge is burned on the south and west sides, there is no apparent life in your butterfly bush and your roses look like a clown without a party to go to: all weepy and brown.

This may not describe your garden but it does mine.

I am here with some good news: all is not lost. The following information will save a good many of your precious garden plants and your pride. Here goes:

1. Winter burn. The dead foliage on the south and west sides of your yews, holly, boxwood, and other evergreen shrubs was not the result of a cold winter so much as they just got sun burn in March. The sun is remarkably powerful as we approach spring. As it reflects off of the late season snow it can burn the outside foliage of the aforementioned shrubs. The answer to this ‘problem’ is to do very little. A vigorous brush with a gloved hand will shake loose some of the brown foliage, but for the most part your evergreens will look fresh as a daisy come late May-early June when new growth pushes past the dead, brown foliage.

2. Salt damage. There are three prime areas of salt damage in our gardens this time of year: grass that has been burned at the margins of the driveway and on the boulevard by the street; plants that have salt-laden soil near their roots; and the west-facing foliage of cedar hedges and the like which received the brunt of the westerly winds and the salt spray that it carried off of the road. 

The answer to all three dilemmas is to soak them down with fresh, clean water from the end of your garden hose. 

Your lawn will require a bit more attention as municipalities are notorious for spreading over-generous amounts of rock salt on sidewalks. I know, it is all in the name of safety, but salt is one of the most toxic chemicals in common use. Use enough of it around plants and you will not just kill them, you will sterilize the soil. 

To save your tired lawn, spread a three or four centimetre layer of triple mix or lawn soil over the thin and damaged portions, broadcast grass seed by hand at the rate of about one kilo per 100 square meters. Rake the works smooth, step on it to get the soil and seed in firm contact and water it well for up to six weeks until it has germinated. 

Fertilize your entire lawn, especially the boulevard this time of year to strengthen it and bring it to life. Use a quality, slow release fertilizer with DDP iron in it for best results. 

3. Snow damage. The weight of a wet snowfall may have pulled your cedars and junipers down to the ground, like they are saying a prayer. Ask them to say one for me, as my cedar hedge is not looking too spiffy right now. I suggest that you either pull normally upright evergreens into an upright position and secure them there using long two by two inch stakes or guide wires secured in three positions with tent pegs hammered into the ground. The wires should pass through a section of old garden hose about 30 cm long where they meet the woody portion of the trees to prevent damage from the tense wires. 

Or you can just leave them alone and wait for the sap to rise. When late spring arrives and new growth appears, the chances are very good that your sad looking evergreens will miraculously find their own way into their naturally erect position. Sunshine, water and an inch of finished compost around the roots are the secret to helping your evergreens. 

There is a theme to this article that you may have already picked up on: patience. It’s true that we learn this lesson while gardening, when we pay attention. 

Only as our daytime temperatures rise and new growth appears all around us will we really know the extent to which damage actually occurred. 

Let’s just wait and see. By mid-June we will know more and still have lots of time to make it right. In the meantime, plant some pansies and violas in your garden as you can’t go wrong with an early splash of colour.     


Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40.  He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden.  Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.