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Do Anti-Dessicant Sprays and Arborvitae Shrubs Mix?

I planted several arborvitae this year. Should I protect them with an anti-dessicant spray this winter?

arborvitae leaf

Answer: With winter comes the threat of freezing temperatures and cruel, wild winds, which can be of concern for our trees and shrubs that are left outside to endure the long, cold season. Sometimes even our strongest evergreens aren’t safe from damage���such as winter burn, or desiccation, an effect of the hostile weather and robust winds.

The cold temperatures can cause soil to freeze, ultimately cutting off most moisture to the roots of trees and shrubs. The loss of moisture, in addition to the strong winds and harsh, fluctuating weather, can trigger water from the leaves to transpire—to lose water via vapor—resulting in insufficient water supply. This lack of water can lead to winter burn—dehydration of a plant causing discoloration, such as browning or yellowing, of leaves.

Many gardeners will try an anti-dessicant to help protect their lovely trees and shrubs from winter burn. However, you should not use anti-dessicant on arborvitae. These sprays often give mixed results with arborvitae. If you feel you must, then be sure to wait until after the ground has frozen and the foliage has hardened; at this point the moisture in the leaves will have retreated to the plants’ roots. If the anti-dessicant is applied while moisture still exists in the leaves, then the moisture may freeze and expand in very cold weather, bursting the cells and causing visible damage. Be sure to apply it at a time when the spray will not freeze on the foliage before it dries.

If you are concerned about winter burn, try wrapping your arborvitae in a covering such as burlap.

Learn more about winter protection for shrubs.

Also check out this article on using bird netting to protect plants during winter from too much snow.

Image author and license: Joshua Mayer
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