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Recover your garden from winter damage

Frost 5

Any keen gardener will be aware of how winter can ravage your garden and – when combined with other weather hazards such as frost, snow, ice, storms and even flooding - it can seem like plants will never recover.

However, help is at hand, as the Royal Horticultural Society has tips on how to recover your garden from weather damage and have it ready in time for spring’s arrival.

How does weather damage occur?

Most trees and shrubs have a few leaves that suffer damage or disfigurement during the growing season, and though our first thoughts are often that an attack by pest or disease has occurred, many times it is due to the weather. 

A single weather event can cause damage, such as a storm, snow or frost. But sometimes worse damage is caused by prolonged weather events such as drought or waterlogging. And new plants are often more susceptible than established plants.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of weather damage are often similar to those caused by pests, disease or nutrient deficiency. And in some cases, the symptoms from weather damage might take weeks or months to show up in a plant.

When faced with brown leaves, wilting or dieback, do consider the weather over the past 12 months, as well as looking for signs of pest, disease or nutrient deficiency.

Signs of damage

Brown leaves: See our advice about brown leaves on woody plants for further information on causes of this problem.

Physical damage - Leaning, tearing, breakage or abrasion is normally due to wind exposure or mechanical damage.

Creased leaves - This type of stop-go growth happens where temperatures and soil moisture fluctuate

Bud and leaf drop - Caused by lack of moisture, fluctuating growing conditions, or frost or wind damage at any time between bud formation until flowering.

Dieback of shoots or whole plants - Browning of shoots suggests that something is preventing moisture reaching the affected leaves. Waterlogging and drought may be involved, but pests and fungal root diseases are also often to blame.

When all leaves uniformly turn yellow or brown, the cause is most likely to be one that affects roots and water or nutrient supply.

Pests and diseases can also cause similar damage as weather events, and should also be investigated.

Weather events

Heavy rain - Tends to affect the top of plants with rain damage breaking delicate shoots and flowers. However it is soil saturation and flooding that causes most harm.

Frost - Also tends to affect the top of plants where the freezing is most intense. Lower leaves and areas inside the leaf canopy are less affected. Frost can damage plants randomly in an affected area with some plants losing buds, foliage, flowers and fruits and others being unaffected.

Snow - As well as freezing damage, mechanical damage is caused by the weight of snow breaking branches.

Hail – This causes bruising and abrasion and occasionally defoliation or loss of fruits. Hail causes tiny scars on young leaves and fruits that become very noticeable as the plants develop. Hail damage mainly affects the top of plants.

High winds - Cause damage to the upper and windward sides of plants. In severe cases, plants can be uprooted. Windy weather also dries out leaves leading to browning, scorching and loss of buds, flowers and leaves.

How to treat it

You can prevent some weather damage by thinking about plant selection for your garden. Choose hardy plants for frost pockets, or use frost protection. If your garden is prone to flooding, consider installing drainage. But in many cases, there is not much you can do by the way of prevention.

Ensuring plants are healthy and not stressed will go some way to minimising weather damage. Follow our advice on trees and shrubs to make sure plants get the best start in life. Watering, feeding and mulching will all keep plants healthy, as will paying attention to soil health.

If damage does occur, in most cases the plant will grow out of it, although in extreme situations you may want to prune out the damage. Pay particular attention to watering and feeding after a damaging weather event.

By following the above advice, you’ll be able to not only notice signs of damage, but protect against it, and treat it in the event it occurs, ensuring your garden is ready for the spring and summer months.

The Royal Horticultural Society offers year-round tips to make the most of your garden. Learn more by visiting the website at