Because trees can’t cozy up to a fire like us, or wander to a warmer spot like animals, they have their own way of bearing the cold.
Shedding leaves is one method—a bare canopy helps trees conserve needed water. Trees also go through a few steps to protect their cells from freezing. But, the most important part of a tree’s winter prep process? It’s the care you provide before and during the season.
Below, read about three essential tree winter protection steps for roots, trunks and branches.
Winter Protection for Trees
Protect your trees from the bottom up with these winter tree care recommendations.
Step 1: Tree Winter Protection for Roots
- Water: Hydrate tree soil all the way up until the ground freezes. That way, roots will have stocked up enough water to make it through winter. It’s usually not necessary to continue watering throughout winter, but in some cases, you should water trees in winter.
- Insulate: Roots can be damaged if soil temperatures get too cold (i.e., around 15 degrees Fahrenheit or so.) If you live in a snowy area, blankets of snow on tree beds usually provide enough insulation to keep roots warm. But, if it doesn’t snow much in your neck of the woods, you should mulch your tree bed to protect roots.
- Watch for road salt: Salt that keeps us from slipping and sliding in winter can actually be pretty harmful to tree roots. Salts with sodium chloride can dry out tree roots and alter soil structure, so calcium chloride-based road salt is a better alternative. Read all about the danger of road salt near tree roots here.
Step 2: Winter Protection for Tree Trunks
- Stop sunscald: Warm winter days that turn to freezing nights can cause sunscald—it's the result of tissue under tree bark heating up in the daytime and then rapidly freezing in the evening. Wrapping trunks with a plastic tree guard is the best way to protect against sunscald.
- Deter deer: In winter, deer use tree trunks to smooth out their antlers, which leaves the trunk anything but smooth. Affected trunks are stripped of large chunks of their wood. You can stop deer from rubbing on your trees by building a barrier or using a protective tree wrap.
Step 3: Winter Tree Care Tips for Branches and Foliage
- Prune dead and broken branches: Winter is the best time to prune trees. Winter trims remove weak branches that could be further damaged in harsh elements, and they give the tree a fresh start for spring.
- Remove piled snow: Tree branches drooping under the weight of snow can easily snap, hurting the tree and potentially causing a hazard for you. Whenever there’s a light cover of snow on your tree’s branches, gently brush it off with a broom. Always avoid shaking snow off of your tree; that can cause breakage as well.
- Leave the ice: Don’t try to intervene if your tree’s branches are coated in ice. Ice is thick and tough to remove, and you might do more harm than good trying to help your tree. The best thing to do is wait for the ice to melt, and then have an arborist inspect the tree for damage when the weather warms up.
- Prevent winter burn: A problem unique to evergreens, winter burn is when tree needles lose moisture, and roots can’t replenish it because they’re not able to take up water from the soil. The result? Dry, brown evergreen needles. Water, mulch and burlap wraps all help protect trees from winter burn. Read more about how to prevent winter burn here.