The winter season provides an optimal time for maintaining trees. Follow these tips to get ready for the cold months ahead.
Pruning plant material when it’s dormant means it can tolerate removing much more than it could when it’s growing. Pruning to remove dead branches is an important step to improving safety in high-traffic areas. Lifeless branches are more susceptible to break and fall under the weight of winter snow and heavy winds.
Young trees benefit greatly from a proper, fresh mulch application just before winter. Mulch helps regulate soil temperatures to prevent freeze-thaw cycles, which can cause a young tree’s roots to heave up out of the ground – creating an unstable and unhealthy condition. High quality organic mulch helps keep organic matter in the soil – a bonus for the root system – and also helps to conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. But Don’t apply too much mulch. Organic mulch is most effective at a depth of 2 to 4 inches, and it should be kept 2 to 3 inches away from the tree’s base. If too much is piled against the trunk, it can promote rot and kill the tree.
Examine the roots. If there is decay, the ground near the tree’s base may be heaving up. If there is decay-producing fungi (which appear as mushrooms), it may be a critical-risk tree. Is the bark coming off or cracking? Is the tree’s trunk swollen? All these are signs of advanced decay and indicate a tree that may need to be removed. Also look for signs of insect infestation.
Trees that have been attacked by insects such as the Emerald Ash Borer or Asian Longhorned Beetle are more susceptible to failing.
Bracing for ice
Trees most susceptible to ice damage are upright evergreens, such as arborvitae and juniper. The best defense against ice damage is proper pruning of dead or weak branches before winter.
If you find branches coated in ice and snow, don’t shake the branches to break the ice or remove the snow. This can actually lead to more damage, as branches coated in ice become brittle, making them more susceptible to break. The trees will return to normal naturally as the weather warms.
As a rule, in colder climates (where we are) don’t apply fertilizer to trees and shrubs after early fall. The growth it stimulates will be tender and can be damaged when the weather turns cold.