How to prepare your trees for winter

When the winter winds are whistling and you’re roasting yourself by the fire, don’t forget about your trees—they definitely need some initial love before Jack Frost takes a bite.

In gratitude for the bountiful shade these leafy lovelies provide you all spring and summer, giving your trees a leg up in their fight against the worst of winter weather.

Even if you live in a place where winter days are more mild than harmful, winter is a great time to give your trees a little extra attention.

please prune

Provide your tall beauties with a healthy start to winter by making sure they are free of deadwood, and well-trimmed for their species. If there are limbs or branches that could pose a threat to your home or walkway, trim, brace or cable them to provide stability.

more mulch

Frequent freezing and thawing can cause expansion and contraction of the soil, which can damage the roots and lift the plant out of the ground.

To maintain a more stable soil temperature, insulate the 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 place the mulch directly in front of the trunk, as the base needs to “breathe”. Instead of applying it in the shape of a volcano, you want your mulch to resemble a doughnut.

If you live where the ground freezes and stays frozen, wait to mulch until the ground is frozen, otherwise mice may take up residence in your cozy bed of organic material.

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Keep trees well watered throughout autumn before the ground freezes, especially newly planted ones. Water acts as an insulator—and plant cells that swell with water will be stronger against cold damage.

Additionally, moist soil holds heat longer than dry soil, so it can also help protect the roots.

trunk wrap

“Sunscald” is a term used for injury caused by fluctuations in winter temperatures.

Warm winter sun can cause trunk cells to come out of dormancy and become active. But when the temperature drops below freezing point again, the active cells and conductive tissue die, causing injury that can result in unsightly wounds.

Hort Paper Tree Wrap 3″ x 150′ Roll, Commercial Grade

To prevent sunscald, wrap trunks—especially plant ones—in light-colored crepe paper wrap like this one from Hort, available through Amazon. Wrap from the base of the trunk upward, overlapping the layers by one-third.

Wrap the trunk just above the bottom set of branches. Remove the paper when the winter is over.

Some gardeners paint their trunks white to reflect the sun. But then you have white tights. Wrapping them instead is a temporary seasonal solution that requires repeated labor each year, but is more attractive.

as the season progresses

As winter rages on, keep the following maintenance items in mind:

If you use snow melting products around your trees, avoid using anything containing sodium chloride. Rock salt interferes with the ability of the roots to absorb water, oxygen and nutrients.

Instead, choose snow melting products that contain potassium, magnesium chloride or calcium.

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And as heavy storms deposit heavy snow on branches, you’ll want to pull on your galoshes and go outside and slowly clear the snow with heavily loaded limbs.

Do not try to break the frozen ice. Instead, attach a garden hose to a hot water faucet, if possible, and melt the ice.

hungry critters

The wrapping mentioned above can also help deter hungry critters from snacking. If not, wrap ¼-inch mesh wire around the base of your tree, burying the bottom a few inches deep so clever stink bugs can’t get under.

We like this product from Yardgard, available on Amazon.

YARDGARD 1/4-Inch Mesh Galvanized Hardware Cloth

Don’t tie the wire too tight against the trunk, and remove the wire after Spring’s Bounty has provided other treats for local wildlife.

healthy and happy

Winter can be brutal on our landscapes. We can’t promise that your forgotten succulents will survive the cold, but with a little care and attention, your trees will wake up smelling like roses.

Er, ok…. You know what we mean!

Pruning, mulching, watering and wrapping – just a few small preventive tasks will help your trees survive the coldest weather.

How to chill your trees? Share in the comment section below. And click here to read about the man who is working to propagate a whole new species.

For more fall and winter tips you need these guides:

Product photos via Hort and Yardgard. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.