Winter Tree Care: What to Do About Cold Stress and Branch Breakage

trees, shrubs, winter, pruning, watering, mulching, cold stress

Caring for your shrubs and trees in the winter is very important. Ornamental shrubs, evergreens and shade trees are the biggest investments that you have in your lawn. Winter can be hard on lawn plants as you know, so here are some tips to help you protect your valuable woody plants.

Combating cold stress

For exposed and isolated trees of a lawn, winter is a very stressful time. There are some things you can do that will mitigate these stresses.

Cold stress often happens with late growth when there is an early sudden frost. Late-season growth is more at risk because it hasn’t had the same time as established growth to prepare for the cold. Ice crystals form that can rupture the cell walls of the new tips of branches that die off the following season.

What to do:

To avoid this hazard, do not prune your trees until they have gone into dormancy. Pruning too soon encourages new growth increasing the risk of damage from a frost. Also do not use fertilizer with a high amount of quick-release nitrogen. While trees benefit from proper fertilization in the fall, it is important to know what to avoid.

Branch breakage

During the winter branches become more vulnerable. The wood of deciduous trees hardens and become somewhat more brittle and thus susceptible to damage from wind. There is also a problem for both deciduous trees and evergreens when ice and snow accumulate on their branches.

What to do:

The key to keeping branch breakage to a minimum lies in good year-round tree maintenance, especially when pruning. To make the tree less susceptible, you should prune week and vulnerable branches and remove one limb of a pair sharing a deep “V” crotch.

It is certainly true that winter is tough on everyone including shrubs and trees. But if you take care of your trees year round, you may not have winter damage.

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