Winterize Your Trees

Winter’s high winds, heavy snow and ice, frozen soil and huge fluctuations in temperature can damage your cherished trees and shrubs. You can lessen the adverse effects of winter weather with preventative maintenance.

What can happen in winter, and how can you avoid it?

Branches of trees can break due to the excessive weight of ice or snow. Proper pruning encourages the formation of the strongest possible branches as well as the strongest branch attachments. When pruning alone isn’t enough, properly installed cables and rigid braces can add support to a weakened part of the tree.

Winter winds cause evergreens to lose moisture from their needles. Even some deciduous trees suffer from winter drying. If water is not available as moisture is drawn from living cells, there can be permanent damage. The best prevention consists of planting only hardy species in areas of prolonged exposure, watering plants adequately in the fall, and mulching to insulate the soil and roots from severe cold.

On sunny days in winter, the tree’s trunk and main limbs can warm to 15 degrees higher than the air temperature. As soon as the sun’s rays stop reaching the stem, its temperature goes down fast, causing injury or permanent damage to the bark. The two main types of injury are known as sun scald and frost cracking. The effects of sun scald and frost cracking can be reduced by sound arboricultural practices to maintain overall health, and also by covering the trunks of young, susceptible trees with a suitable tree wrap.

Winter is a good time to prune.

Most skilled arborists prefer pruning when trees are dormant. With no leaves on the tree, the arborist is better able to evaluate the tree’s architecture and spot dead or diseased branches. In addition, since the ground is frozen, damage to the turf underneath the tree due to falling limbs is negligible. This is also a good time to check trees for certain diseases and other damage.

Here are some other ways to improve the health of your living landscape:

  • Soil aeration around trees helps improve water and air movement in the soil. This strengthens the tree’s root system and reduces soil compaction.
  • When planting, choose hardy trees available in your area as they have better chances for survival in severe weather conditions. Choosing the best location and following proper planting procedures should be your highest priorities.
  • In case of moderate storm damage, fully restoring the tree to its former health and beauty may take some time, but it generally can make a full recovery. Broken, hazardous limbs should be removed immediately. Pruning to remove broken stubs and restore the balance of the crown can be put off a little while, but it shouldn’t be delayed more than one growing season.