Protect Trees and Shrubs with Dormant Sprays

By: Julie Day
Protect Trees and Shrubs with Dormant Sprays

Organic spraying while dormant can prevent the need for more toxic treatments later.

Winter is a good time to get a leg up on pests and diseases through the use of dormant sprays. Dormant sprays are applied to deciduous trees and shrubs after the leaves have fallen and the plants are dormant.

About Dormant Sprays

Dormant sprays kill overwintering insects and fungal diseases that can threaten the plant next spring.

Bottles of dormant sprayBecause the pests have limited hiding places in winter, organic dormant spraying can reduce the need for more harmful treatments and sprays during the growing season.

Dormant sprays are most often used on:

  • Fruit trees
  • Roses
  • Other deciduous trees or shrubs that struggled with infestation or disease during the previous growing season.

Types of Dormant Sprays

There are three main types of dormant sprays. In general, all three types are considered organic, but be sure to check the label before using, since some dormant sprays are mixed with non-organic pesticides.

Bottles of dormant sprays

  • Lime Sulfur: (calcium polysulphide) Lime sulfur usually comes in liquid form and is an effective fungicide against diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot, apple scab, rust, and other fungal diseases. The sulfur smell can also be a deterrent to munching deer and other critters.
  • Copper: Also called Bordeaux mixture, copper comes either in liquid or powder form, sometimes formulated as copper sulfate. While copper is more hazardous (and should be kept out of groundwater), it’s popular because of its effectiveness against bacterial infection as well as fungal diseases.
  • Liquid copper dormant spray

  • Dormant (horticultural) Oil: Dormant oil sprays work by coating and smothering overwintering insects and eggs. Dormant oil can be used to control pests such as aphids, scale, mites, twig borers, white flies, and leaf rollers. Dormant oils are generally nontoxic except to insects. Since they work by smothering insects, the critters can’t build up resistance. The most common dormant oils, such as Volck oil and Bonide, are petroleum based. Others, including Oil-Away Supreme Insecticidal Oil, are plant based. Dormant oil can also be used as a base mixed with other insecticides or fungicides, to make them stick and work better.

Dormant Spraying Tips

  • Follow Instructions: Dormant sprays are usually sold as concentrates that can be sprayed with a garden sprayer or hose attachment. Be sure to mix and apply according to package instructions – more isn’t necessarily better, and just because they’re organic doesn’t mean they’re harmless.
  • Coverage: In order for the sprays to be effective, they have to cover every nook and cranny, including the undersides of branches, usually until the plant is dripping.
  • Temperature: Check the label, but most sprays work best in temperatures at least over 40° F and ideally over 50° F.
  • Dormant spray container

  • Timing: Dormant sprays are typically applied in December and again in mid-February, although some require just one spraying in January or February. Spray on a mild day with no rain, wind, or freezing temperatures forecast for the next 24 hours, to give the spray a chance to spread and dry. For best results, spray after pruning in late winter, just before the spring buds begin to swell on the plant.
  • Apply Only as Needed: As with all sprays, use only when needed on plants that have suffered from pests or disease. Widespread preventative spraying will kill beneficial insects as well.
  • Use Only on Dormant Plants: Unless otherwise labeled, dormant sprays can harm leaves and flowers on growing plants, so use only when plants are dormant.
  • Spraying Safety: Even though they’re organic, dormant sprays can be irritating to skin and eyes. Wear long sleeves and gloves, and use eye protection and a mask when applying dormant sprays.

Further Information

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3 Comments on “Protect Trees and Shrubs with Dormant Sprays”

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  • Jeannie Quigley Says:
    October 29th, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Zone 8a, I have a Magnolia that was planted in 2013. It suffers from yellow leaves and brown spotting on the leaves. It has not looked well for the past two seasons. There is also a mossy buildup on the branches. In addition, I have a Dogwood, planted the same year, with brown spots on the leaves. Can I spray these two trees with a dormant spray? Will this help? Earwigs have been a problem in the garden, do you have any suggestions for combating this pest and could that be part of the problem with these two trees?



  • Marie Says:
    September 29th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    It would be very helpful to know to which area or zone your information applies. In zone 5, it is nearly impossible to spray in Jan. or Feb, or even March for that matter, since the temperatures are very likely to be below freezing within any 24 hour period.



  • lawrence robison Says:
    May 4th, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I have recently planted Two MAGNOLIA trees and the bottom leaves ( some ) are turning a yellow color and dropping off . Others have a hole in them that looks like a tomato worm on a tomato plant. Is this normal or should I get some kind of spray ? They get plenty of water as they are new and I water daily. THANKS


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