As fall approaches and summer wanes, it’s time to start thinking about how to care for your trees with the shifting seasons. Even though it feels like summer is still in full swing, your trees are already starting to respond to the approach of winter. As the nights get longer and temperatures drop, your trees start preserving food. Don’t wait until the weather fully shifts to start protecting your trees for the winter season.
Without proper preparation, your trees may sustain damage or even die. Certain species of trees — as well as young trees—are susceptible to sunscald, foliage damage from winter burn, root damage, or physical damage from falling ice or snow. Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to protect your trees from severe winter weather.
Remove Dead Branches
Before you begin the work of protecting and strengthening your tree, you must first remove any dead or damaged branches. Survey your tree. Are there any limbs that appear to be dead, damaged, or diseased? Do any of them hang over your house or near your car? You may consider removing them. The stress of winter can cause unwanted breakage to these susceptible limbs, making them unsafe. This breakage can become aggravated by heavy weather such as snow or ice.
Protect your tree, your property, and yourself from unnecessary damage by removing the potential hazard. Removing the dead or damaged limbs strengthens the tree so it can better withstand harsh weather.
If much of the tree needs to be trimmed or an entire tree needs removal, make sure you contact a professional arborist. Not only can tree removal and trimming pose a threat to your own safety, but it can also threaten a tree’s health if not done correctly. Improperly trimming a tree by over-pruning can weaken the tree. If it loses too much of its canopy at once, the now weakened tree can die from the stress. This is easily avoided by having your trees trimmed by a knowledgeable arborist.
Now that unhealthy branches or trees have been removed, it’s time to have your tree pruned. Pruning is necessary to ensure a continued and fruitful growing season. However, pruning at the wrong time of year is a common mistake. Pruning a tree too early stimulates new growth and prevents the tree from going into natural dormancy.
The best time to prune a tree is during its dormant season. Typically, this will be late fall or winter, depending on the variety of tree. Pruning while a tree is inactive is less stressful for the tree and increases its growth in spring.
Pruning accurately is also easier with a tree that has less foliage. With the branches more visible, it’s easier to identify healthy branches and make the proper cuts. Making the wrong cuts, or too many, can weaken and kill a tree. Cutting off the top of a tree’s primary leader will reduce the size of the tree. Over-pruning will weaken the entire structure of the tree.
If you have any doubts, contact your local arborist. Don’t risk your tree’s health with improper pruning. Our knowledgeable team of arborists at Mr. Tree are able to safely and skillfully prune your trees, maintaining their overall health so your trees continue to produce effectively.
Mulch the Base
During the winter season, cold weather can damage the root system. If soil temperatures drop too low and the soil has frozen and thawed multiple times, pressure builds up and lifts the soil upward. This upward lifting of soil during freezing conditions is called frost heave. Frost heave can unearth the roots of your tree, exposing them to the cold.
Adding a layer of mulch around the base of your tree will insulate the roots, protecting them from cold soil and the potential for frost heave. Mulching also helps the soil retain moisture, which will hold heat more effectively than dry soil. Add two to four inches of mulch near the base of your tree, leaving about a six-inch gap so the mulch does not touch the trunk directly. This gap will protect the roots from being smothered by the mulch and from an excess of moisture building up and leading to wood decay diseases.
Water and Fertilize
Proper hydration and fertilization are always important for the overall health of your tree. Make sure your trees receive the proper nutrients needed to sustain life during their dormant season.
Fertilizing in the late fall, while your tree is dormant, will help the soil recover nutrients it lost during the summer and promote root growth through the winter. This benefit is minimized if the soil freezes, so be sure to insulate the roots by mulching and watering.
While summer persists, it’s important to keep your trees regularly hydrated. As fall approaches and your trees become dormant, they don’t require as much water. However, do not stop watering them altogether. While your trees need less water during fall and winter, they still need proper amounts of water to survive. If your tree doesn’t get enough water, it’s exposed to the effects of winter drought, and the roots will dry out. If the roots are dry, they cannot absorb nutrients through the soil. Make sure to water them deeply a few times a month.
Proper hydration will also protect your tree from winter burn—a condition that affects trees that don’t lose their leaves. Dry winter winds and winter draught dry out the leaves, causing them to turn yellow and brown. These leaves won’t recover and eventually die.
Wrap the Trunk
Even in the colder season, your tree can still be damaged from winter sun exposure. Sunscald is the effect of harmful sun exposure. Sunscald damages the bark of the tree either by direct sun exposure or by reflecting light from the snow. It appears as patches of dead or cracked bark, making it more susceptible to disease.
Stave off sunscald by shading or “wrapping” the trunk. Wrap your trees from top to bottom—preventing excessive moisture from collecting in the folds—with removable fabric, paper, cardboard, or burlap tree wrap easily purchased from a home and garden center.
It doesn’t take much to prepare your trees for winter. With these few easy and cautionary steps, your trees stand ready and strong to face the harsh cold of winter.