Keeping Trees Healthy in Winter – Your Tree Care Checklist

While Tallahassee, Florida, is mostly a sunny state, the winter months can get extremely cold. Most people who reside in this hot climate look forward to the reduced temperatures and humidity synonymous with most winter months in Florida.

While you may love the cool temperatures, the trees in your yard may not. You can tell winter is coming when trees start to shed their leaves as they prepare for the dormancy cycle that occurs in winter for most plants. Before it is full-blown winter, preparing your trees and landscape for the cold weather is always ideal.

Here is everything you need to know about caring for your trees in winter.

Tree pruning and trimming in winter

Any seasoned arborist will tell you that winter tree pruning and trimming is a maintenance task that plays an important role in the overall health of your trees.

Prune for structure, health, and shape

In winter, tree growth slows down, and trees shed their leaves. This leads to branch visibility, making it the perfect time to prune and trim. During this time, you can hire a qualified tree trimming service to improve your tree branch pattern to direct future growth. An arborist is best placed to ensure pruning precision and proper structure and shape.

Pruning dormant trees is an excellent way of ridding the tree of unwanted branches, especially dead, decaying, diseases, or broken ones. This will boost the tree’s overall health and ensure stronger growth once winter is over. This also ensures the branches left are strong enough to withstand the weight of snow and ice. This helps to prevent accidental branch breakage, which can be a safety concern to the people around your home.

Winter pruning elms and oaks can keep diseases at bay

Dormant tree trimming in winter is one of the best ways to limit the spread of common oak and elms tree diseases such as Dutch elm and oak wilt. Most arborists encourage tree owners to trim and prune in winter as it is easier to spot diseases on a bare tree. For oaks and elms, trimming them in winter reduces the chances of attracting insects that carry disease.

If you are concerned about properly pruning your oaks and elms to wade off disease-causing insects, you can contact a qualified tree trimming service to get the job done.

Inspecting shrubs and trees

Tree and shrub inspecting in winter is an important tree care step for the cold season. You need to be on the lookout for specific tree problems common in winter.

Ice or snow damage

The flakes can quickly pile on a tree whenever it snows and get too heavy for the branches. If you are going through a severe snowy winter, you need to ensure you check your trees for possible damage or weakened branches. You should also look for holes in the tree trunks and signs of cracks or decay.

In case of extensive damage to the tree trunk causing death or decay, you may need to consider hiring a tree removal service to get rid of the tree.

Tree diseases and insects

Inspecting your trees for disease and disease-causing insects is also important. Some of these pathogen-carrying insects spread fast in winter, which can be detrimental to the health of your dormant trees. Some signs to look out for include tree branch discolorations, deterioration, and decay. You can contact an arborist for the inspection.

Treating your trees in spring is the best way to protect them from winter disease.

Soil care in winter

While the ground freezes in winter, it does not mean that you should forget about your soil. Remember that the soil carries nutrients taken up by the roots for healthy tree growth. This means that soil care is essential to ensure your trees continue to thrive even through winter. The best time to care for the soil is before the winter season.

Fertilize your shrubs and trees

Throughout the year, trees can lose their nutrients for different reasons. Also, some soils are not as nutritious as full organic soil in the forest. For this reason, you need to continue creating optimal soil conditions for your trees to thrive. Consider using a slow-release fertilizer application that replaces lost nutrients in the soil to improve the tree’s resistance to disease, insects, and harsh winter weather.

Do not use rock salt near trees

Rock salt is common in winter as it makes it easy for the group to be walkable and roads usable. When applying rock salt around your yard and driveway, you need to ensure that you do not pour it anywhere near trees as it causes tree damage.

Excess salt penetrates the soil and causes a water imbalance between the roots and soil, causing the tree to experience dehydration. To ensure your trees remain safe, you should consider using rock salt rich in calcium chloride or magnesium calcium acetate, as these are less harmful to plants compared to sodium chloride.

In case of salt damage, a certified arborist can wash off the salt from the tree soil after the snow clears. You can further treat salty soil using organic matter once you get to Spring.

Pre-treating beds and turns before salt application

If you must use hard salt near your trees, you should consider treating the soil around the tree beforehand. To minimize damage, you can create a snow fence around your plants before salt use. In case of damage, a lawn spreader can be used to apply granulated gypsum around the affected trees to absorb the salt. This helps to aerate the soil around the trees for improved water and air penetration, which heals the grass area around the bottom of the tree.

Protecting shrubs and trees

It is possible to prepare your trees for harsh winters. Here is how to do so.

Wrap the tree trunks to prevent vermin damage and cracks

Some trees can greatly benefit from extra protection in winter. If you have trees with barks, young trees, and arborvitae, you can further boost protection using a plastic tree base guard or burlap tree wrapping. This type of wrap protects the tree from herbivore damage such as voles and rabbit girdling or deer antler rubbing, which is common in winter. It will also discourage woodpeckers from feeding on the tree.

Tree wrapping is also an excellent way of preventing sunscald, which harms the bark of a tree whenever cold temperatures immediately follow sun warmth. This is especially damaging to evergreen needles since they quickly soak up the sum and instantly dry and brown when the heat is quickly gone.

Use anti-desiccant to reduce the loss of moisture in your evergreens

Winter is a dry season, and trees suffer moisture loss and desiccation during the season as the harsh weather dries things out. Spraying an anti-desiccant on your evergreen trees helps lock in moisture to slow water loss in the winter months.

It is important to know the best time to use anti-desiccant. The product is best used when trees are dry and dormant; ideally, when the temperatures are above freezing before the harsh winter conditions.

Removing snow from tree limbs

Whenever people notice the weight of snow bending branches, most of them immediately rush to shake it off. However, the best way to care for your trees is by allowing the snow to melt to give the branch a chance to recover from the weight on its own. This is especially ideal when dealing with ice. Never try to remove ice from branches on your own, as this may worsen the damage to the branches.  

For evergreen trees, if the snow is fluffy after a storm, you can gently remove it from the leaves and branches using a soft broom to brush off the snow in an upward motion.

Ensure you check your trees for damage in spring once all the ice or snow has melted.

Protect against overwintering pests and spring infestations using dormant oil

Like animals hibernate in warm areas in winter, insects find warm spaces to weather out the winter storms while accessing food. Trees provide an excellent option for most insects.

While they may not be a problem in winter, insects feast on trees as soon as spring sets in as they multiply. Applying dormant oil on the trees in winter can prevent overwintering pests and avoid spring damage.

The bottom line

Trees can suffer significant damage carried on to other seasons without proper care in winter. With this tree care checklist for winter, you are better placed to take the best care of your trees, even on the coldest winter days.

In the event of complete bark and root damage to a tree in winter, the best way to ensure you protect your yard and other trees is by cutting it down and stump grinding. A certified tree care expert is best placed to ensure a diseased or damaged tree is completely removed.

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