There’s no doubt that winter, as a season, is difficult for many of us. From the way the cold wears on the immune system to the increased risk of traffic collisions or a slip and fall accident when walking outside, there are a lot of unique risks to the winter season. It may surprise you to know that the trees in your yard also have a rougher time in winter.

There are certain things that you can do, as their owner and caretaker, to protect your trees from the ravages of the cold season until they can burst back into life again next spring. Your arboreal friends and your home value will both thank you!

Winter Drought Can Weaken or Kill Trees

Winter drought may seem like an oxymoron; after all, the winter is typically full of precipitation. However, because that water is falling in a frozen state or freezing soon after it reaches the ground, the roots of your trees may not be able to use any of that water to sustain themselves. This is of particular concern for trees that are not dormant, such as evergreens and conifers.

Winter drought can be particularly difficult during later winter and frozen early spring weeks, when trees are trying to wake up and set the stage for this upcoming summer’s growth. This is particularly problematic if the tree is sun-warmed but the soil itself is still frozen solid.

How to Prevent Winter Drought

One of the best and easiest ways to prevent winter drought from impacting your trees is to apply a thick layer of organic mulch in late fall, before it freezes outside. What kind of mulch and how much you use will depend on the kind of trees, the density of the mulch, and the intensity of your fiercest local winters.

Some tree owners will rake their leaves back to a circle of roughly half the circumference of the tree canopy and collect them the following spring. Whatever the mulch, applying it thickly can prevent freezing of the roots while also minimizing the loss of water in the ground around the tree to evaporation and freezing during the cold winter months.

What Is Cold Stress and How Can It Harm Trees?

Cold stress is one of the most damaging forces of winter when it comes to trees. One of the most common forms of cold stress has to do with the change in temperature between the daytime, when the sun is out providing heat, and the nighttime, when temperatures drop viciously.

This temperature shift can cause cracking of the bark and the wood underneath, which not only opens the tree to risk of infestation and infection as well as consumption by desperate animals, like deer, but which can damage the phloem and xylum (a tree’s vascular tissues), depleting the tree’s already limited supply of water and sugar.

How Can You Help Prevent Cold Stress?

Cold stress is most common on the southwest facing section of a tree’s trunk, which is the area that will receive the most sunlight in the Northern hemisphere. In addition to the cracking of the bark and the wood underneath, cold stress can also attack late season growth, leading to damage to the tips which would continue growing.

Tree blankets (or styrofoam enclosures) may be applied to new transplants, young trees, and even late season growth branches to minimize the risk of cold stress. If the tree has already cracked, applying a protective layer of an anti-transpirant spray that will minimize the loss of water and sugar can help the tree recover more quickly come spring.

Broken Branches Can Damage Trees, Too

Trees can lose branches during the winter to cold stress, high winds, and the weight of accumulated ice and snow. For deciduous trees that drop their leaves and move into a more hibernative state during the winter, branches can freeze and become more brittle during the winter.

The best way to prevent this kind of damage is to prune your trees thoroughly and carefully during the fall, removing weak, dying, or sick branches. You can attempt to remove snow and ice as a last resort, but that work can be dangerous to the person climbing in the ice and snow.

How Tree Professionals Can Help You Prepare for Winter

If the thought of all that branch pruning, trimming, mulching, and wrapping is exhausting, there’s no need to fret. There are amazing professional services, like WA Tree Experts, who can make a house call to help get your trees ready for winter.

Not only can we trim, prune, and mulch your trees, we can also help protect young transplants and saplings from deer and rodents by installing plastic guards or even painting on a deterrent paint. You get the peace of mind that comes from knowing your trees will thrive this coming spring without needing get up on a ladder yourself. Call today to schedule an appointment before the snow starts coming down!

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