Burn and Salt Injury
Q: I have had my Alberta spruce for many years. They are planted on the east side but do get the winter sun and wind. They are near the road and also may get some salt residue.
The plants line my yard and are now about 7-8 feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter at the base. I have never had the browning problems that I received this winter. HELP!
What can I do to restore the side of the plants that are rusty brown. Some new growth appears to be starting, but not all the brown area will recover.
What can I do to help these plants during winter so that it does not happen again and what can I do this spring and summer to help them out. Thanks, Jan
A: It sounds like you've had both winter burn and salt injury.
With the type of winter we just went through, this is not surprising. I've seen a lot of damage on evergreens near roadways that were heavily salted.
It may be true that all of the browning areas will not recover, so you may have to wait for the new growth to come in over the years and cover up the bare spots.
To help the plants produce as much new growth as possible, be sure to water during any dry spells (defined as 1 week or more without 1-2" of rainfall) whenever they occur -- spring, summer or fall.
You might also try syringing the plant (a.k.a., giving it a good hosing down) early in spring to wash salt residue off the needles. Fertilization will also help by providing the necessary elements for good healthy growth.
As for protection, apply an anti-transpirant in fall to reduce the drying of winter winds and sun. Anti-transpirants also help keep a lot of the salt residue from coming in contact with the needles, so they reduce salt injury as well.
Your local garden center should be able to supply you with this product. Or, you can probably hire a competent arborist in your area to do the application for you.
You can also erect a burlap screen to provide a physical barrier against wind and salt. Burlap screening isn't overly attractive, but if this is what works to help save your Albertas, maybe it's better to look at burlap all winter than browned up Albertas year-round.
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