Tips for Winter Tree Care
Trees are built to withstand cold winter months and snowy conditions — but that doesn't mean they don't require a little help. There are several things you can do as a tree owner to prepare and protect your trees during winter months.
How to Prepare Trees for Winter
As you make preparations for winter around your home, there are a few things you can do to make the cold and snow easier on your trees.
- Address existing concerns: If your tree is showing signs of damage — such as missing bark, extreme leaning, fungal growth or dead limbs — address these concerns before winter comes. Winter conditions can exacerbate many issues. By scheduling a pre-winter checkup with your local arborist, you are ensuring your tree is as healthy as possible.
- Refill newly planted trees: If you have just planted new trees around your yard, they will require extra attention as winter approaches. Check the soil around them — are there any cracks or unfilled spots? If so, refill the soil, so your sapling can adequately take root.
- Create a barrier against wildlife: Wildlife — including squirrels, rabbits, mice and deer — pose a considerable threat to your trees during the winter. These animals ransack your tree for food. To ward away potentially harmful animals, consider erecting a barrier around your tree. There are also some commercial paint-on repellents available.
5 Winter Tree Care Tips
Inspect the condition of your trees before, during and after winter. Familiarizing yourself with your tree's condition will allow you to note any changes that have occurred over the season. Perform a visual inspection of your tree's trunk, visible roots, branches and leaves, if applicable. If you have planted any new trees, track the progress of their growth.
Pruning is still important in winter months — maybe even more so. It is easier to see your tree's structure in the winter when branches are bare. Prune away dead, dying or diseased limbs as needed. Pruning your tree while it's dormant prevents the spread of any existing diseases. However, it is important to limit how much green wood you prune, as trees will use valuable energy to heal these wounds that they should save for surviving through winter.
If you mulch the area around your trees, continue to do so through the winter. Mulching reduces soil evaporation, insulates your tree against harsh winter temperatures and helps your tree's roots absorb plenty of moisture. Be careful not to pile mulch against the tree trunk. Instead, add a two-inch layer of mulch around your tree's dripline. To prevent small rodents from nesting in your mulch, you might wait to lay it until the ground is frozen.
Just because there may be snow on the ground does not mean your trees are receiving enough water. Maintain a regular hydration schedule through fall until the ground freezes. If you water regularly before winter comes, your tree should have enough hydration to last it through the season, as dormant trees require less water. In the event of winter drought, water your tree on a day when the temperature is at least 40 degrees. Water your tree during the day, so the roots have plenty of time to take in the water before temperatures drop and the water freezes.
You can fertilize trees in the winter. This process is called dormant feeding. Fertilizing your tree before the first freeze allows it to take in all excess nutrients and store them as the tree sees fit. Be sure to use a low-nitrogen fertilizer, as too much nitrogen may stimulate late growth during a time when a tree should be preparing for dormancy.
How to Protect Trees in the Winter
Despite all of your pre-winter preparations, your trees may still require an extra layer of protection.
- Wrap your tree: Just like people, some trees benefit from a winter coat during cold months. Many types of trees, like maple and linden, are easily susceptible to sunscald. Sunscald is a result of fluctuating winter temperatures and can result in unsightly and vulnerable wounds on your tree trunk. One way to combat sunscald is by wrapping your tree trunk and any vulnerable branches in a flexible tree wrap.
- Clear snow and ice: Avoid shaking tree branches to expel snow buildup. This could cause branch breakage. Instead, wait until temperatures are above freezing, and use a broom or shovel to push snow and ice away from your tree.
- Avoid harmful ice melts: Because sodium is the main ingredient in many ice melts, it can be hazardous to your trees. Trees only require a small amount of sodium to survive. Rock salts also pull moisture out of plants and root systems, when your tree needs to store as much moisture as possible to make it through the winter healthy. If you are worried about industrial road salts harming your trees, wrap them in tree wrap or burlap to keep them safe.
Follow Up With Your Trees
As winter thaws away and spring brings new life to your yard, do not forget to check up on your trees. Follow up with their conditions now that winter has passed. Take note of any changes or damages that need addressing. Consider scheduling an appointment with an arborist or tree removal expert to perform a thorough inspection of your tree's health.