When winter winds whistle and you’re toasting yourself by the fire, don’t forget about your trees — they definitely need some preparatory love before Jack Frost bites.
In gratitude for the bountiful shade these leafy lovelies provide you all spring and summer, give your trees a leg up in their battle against winter’s worst weather.
Even if you live in a place where winter days are more mild than malevolent, winter is a good time to give your trees a little extra attention.
Offer your tall beauties a healthy start to winter by making sure they are clear of deadwood, and are well-pruned for their species. If there are limbs or branches that may pose a danger to your home or walkways, trim, brace, or cable them to provide stability.
Repeated freezing and thawing can cause soil to expand and contract, which can damage roots and heave saplings out of the ground.
To maintain a more constant soil temperature, insulate roots, and slow moisture loss, add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base of the tree in late fall or early winter.
Take care not to pile mulch directly against the trunk, since the base needs to “breathe.” Rather than applying it in a volcano shape, you want your mulch to more closely resemble a donut.
If you live where the ground freezes and stays frozen, wait to mulch until the ground has frozen, or else mice may take up residence in your cozy bed of organic material.
Water trees well throughout the autumn before the ground freezes, especially newly planted ones. Water acts as an insulator — and plant cells that are swollen with water will be stronger against cold damage.
Additionally, moist soil tends to stay warmer than dry soil, so this can help to protect roots, as well.
Wrap the Trunk
“Sunscald” is a term used for injury caused by fluctuating winter temperatures.
Warm winter sun can cause trunk cells to come out of dormancy and become active. But when temperatures drop below freezing again, active cells and conductive tissues are killed, causing an injury that may result in unsightly scarring.
To prevent sunscald, wrap trunks — especially those of saplings — in a light-colored crepe paper wrap like this one from Hort, available via Amazon. Wrap upward from the base of the trunk, overlapping layers by one-third.
Wrap the trunk up to just above the bottom set of branches. Remove the paper when winter is over.
Some gardeners paint their trunks white to reflect the sun. But then you have white trunks. Wrapping them instead is a temporary seasonal solution that requires repeated labor each year, but it’s much more visually attractive.
As the Season Progresses
As winter’s fury rages, keep the following ongoing maintenance items in mind:
If you must use ice melt products in the vicinity of your trees, avoid using any that contain sodium chloride. Rock salt interferes with the roots’ ability to absorb water, oxygen, and nutrients.
Instead, select ice melt products that contain potassium, magnesium chloride, or calcium.
And as heavy storms deposit weighty snow on branches, you’ll want to pull on your galoshes and go out and gently clear the snow from heavily burdened limbs.
Don’t try to break off ice buildup. Instead, hook up a garden hose to a hot water faucet, if possible, and melt the ice off.
The above-described wrapping may also help to prevent hungry critters from snacking. If not, wrap ¼-inch mesh wire around the base of your tree, burying the bottom a couple of inches deep so the clever stinkers can’t burrow underneath.
We like this product from Yardgard, available on Amazon.
Don’t place the wire too snugly against the trunk, and remove the wire once the spring’s bounty offers other treats for the local wildlife.
Healthy and Happy
Winter can be brutal on our landscapes. We can’t promise your forgotten succulents will survive the chill intact, but with a little care and attention, your trees will come out smelling like roses.
Er, well…. You know what we mean!
Prune, mulch, water, and wrap — just a few small preventative tasks will will help your trees survive the chilliest of seasons.
How do winterize your trees? Share in the comments section below. And click here to read about a man who’s working to propagate a whole new species.
Product photos via Hort and Yardgard. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.