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Can a tree freeze to death? At what temperature do trees freeze?

Can a Tree Freeze to Death in Winter?

February 6, 2018

Our outdoor attire intuitively mirrors the seasons. Bitter cold makes us break out heavy coats while sunny days call for fewer layers—simple as that.

When looking at our trees, it’s hard to imagine how they keep themselves comfortable with the same layer of bark all year, especially in winter.

With all that cold weather, should you worry about your tree freezing to death? Find out exactly what happens to trees when temperatures drop.

How Trees Survive the Winter Without Freezing to Death

Even in the most brutal winters, it’s incredibly rare for trees to freeze to death. Here’s why.

Can a tree freeze to death?

It’s possible, but trees hardly ever freeze to death. But trees do freeze a bit! Half of a tree’s weight is just water. So once winter hits, that water turns to ice.

The trick is that trees work to prevent the water in their cells from freezing. Keep reading to find out how they do it.

At what temperatures do trees freeze?

When temperatures are between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, most trees freeze. Because each tree is different, the exact temperature varies based on species, location and even the height of a tree.

And if you live up north, you know the winter temperatures are often much colder than 20 degrees, but don’t panic! Trees are usually A-OK as long as they keep their living cells from freezing.

What happens to trees in winter that helps them keep cells alive?

Trees go into dormancy in winter, which is like their hibernation. Even though they look like they’re sleeping, trees still do an awful lot to keep their cells alive, which is how they survive winter.

Here’s exactly what’s going on. Once you know this, you’ll never look at a tree the same in winter!

As you already know, trees drop their leaves, so they no longer have to support them. And trees stock their cells with water, which they use in various plant processes. Once winter arrives, trees move some of that water into the spaces between the cells. This helps keep the inside of the cell from freezing, which would cause the cell to die.

That relocated water then freezes first, which gives off a tiny burst of heat and helps keep the actual tree cells from freezing. While all of this is happening, trees also turn the starch inside their cells to sugar, which makes cells even more cold-tolerant.

Is the process the same for evergreens? How do pine trees survive the winter?

Pine tree needles demand far less water than trees with leaves. That’s why evergreen trees don’t need to drop needles to conserve H2O. In fact, even in icy conditions, pines can move water throughout their branches to nourish needles.

Concerned your tree has died this winter? Here’s how to check.

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