Do I Need to Take Care of My Trees During the Winter?

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In the fall, trees begin to prepare for a period of dormancy. During this time, trees will conserve their energy until spring, focusing on root growth instead of leaf production. This makes many traditional tree care practices less effective, while fall tree care becomes essential.

Even beyond the fall steps you can take, there are additional things you can do to prepare for the winter. It’s essential to revise your approach to align with the natural lifecycle of your trees so you can better protect them from the cold season and set the stage for a vibrant spring return.

Winter Tree Care
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Winter Dormancy Facts

As trees enter winter dormancy, several processes occur:

  • Deciduous trees lose their leaves to reduce moisture loss and damage to delicate branches from ice and snow.
  • Trees form their own antifreeze out of proteins and sugars, protecting the plant cells from forming ice crystals inside.
  • Root systems begin to grow faster as trees work to access water from deeper layers of soil that haven’t frozen yet.
  • Trees develop a greater ability to withstand cold as they shed leaves and extend their root systems deeper into the ground.

When dormancy begins for different kinds of trees depends on several factors, including tree species and external environmental conditions. For example, certain fruit trees must go through a cold period in the winter for proper fruit production in the spring.

Some trees may enter dormancy earlier or later than others, while some even have incomplete dormancy, where only some parts of the tree enter their winter sleep state. Flowering trees usually have buds that are only partially dormant, so when the first warm temperatures hit, the petals are ready to burst forth.

Why Prepping Your Trees for Winter Matters

Winter brings several challenges for trees, like freezing temps and heavy snow that accumulates on a tree's branches and weighs them down. And without easily accessible precipitation, trees are at a higher risk of dehydration during the winter.

Preparing your trees for these harsh conditions before they arrive can help protect them from root and branch damage, disease, and even death. A well-prepped tree can easily survive a hard winter and will have fuller, greener foliage and more vibrant blossoms in the spring.

Pre-Winter Tree Care Tips and Best Practices

At Green Drop, we know winter tree care. Here are our tips and best practices for getting your trees ready for the plummeting temps.

Tree Mulching Winter
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Mulch Around Your Trees

Mulching around the base of your trees is a crucial step that protects shallow roots from frigid temps and frozen soil. Mulch acts as insulation and reduces temperature fluctuations, preventing roots from freezing and being unable to transport nutrients throughout the tree's vascular system. It also reduces the risk of frost heaving, a phenomenon where soil expands and contracts as it changes temperature and pushes tree roots up and out of the ground.

By applying a generous layer of good-quality mulch well before winter sets in, you're providing your trees with a barrier between their critical root system and the harsh elements of the season. It helps retain moisture close to the roots, preventing your trees from dehydrating and protecting smaller, more delicate roots from becoming damaged. This makes it easier for your trees to move in and out of dormancy throughout their life cycles.

Prune Your Trees Using Proper Techniques

Properly pruning your trees before winter isn't just a matter of aesthetics – it removes damaged, weak, and diseased branches that can break under the weight of heavy snow and ice. Well-pruned trees are much better equipped to handle winter storms and are less susceptible to structural damage. It also promotes air circulation and sunlight penetration, which helps to reduce fungal growth that commonly occurs during dark, damp winter months.

Late fall is an ideal time for pruning your trees, just before they enter their dormancy period. This minimizes the stress of pruning on trees and promotes healthy healing of cut wounds before the coldest temperatures arrive. Pruning before trees go dormant also helps stimulate new, healthy growth in the spring, which is especially important for fruit-bearing trees that benefit from adequate spacing between branches.

Water Deeply Before the Ground Freezes

Precipitation rates fall during the colder months, and the ground freezes, making it harder for trees to absorb enough water to prevent drought. You can decrease this risk by watering deeply in the late fall or early winter before the first frost to encourage your trees to grow their roots deep into the ground, where they will be better protected from the cold.

Deep watering involves slowly soaking the soil around your trees with water, allowing it to penetrate as far as 30 cm or more into the ground. This can take several hours, so be patient and avoid turning up the pressure on your water to make the process go faster. This has the reverse effect and results in the water running off the soil's surface without soaking into it.

Inspect for Pests and Diseases

Pests seeking winter shelter can easily make a dormant tree their home if you don't take precautions to protect them ahead of time. Diseases can also be a problem in the cool, wet conditions that winter brings. By catching these issues early on, you can treat them before the temperatures drop too low and cause the problem to become worse.

Trees infected with pests or diseases, like Dutch Elm Disease, have more difficulty entering winter dormancy and are less equipped to deal with the stress of the colder months. When you address these issues in the fall, you can reduce overwintering insect populations and the number of pests that emerge in the spring to attack your trees.

Protect Your Trees from Destructive Wildlife

As the weather worsens, wildlife may also be attracted to your trees for food and protection from ice and snow. It's vital to be proactive and make sure these animals can’t access your trees well before they have a chance to hide for the winter.

We recommend professional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, which aim to deter nuisance wildlife without harming them, your trees, or the surrounding ecosystem. These tactics can include things like:

  • Removing bird feeders, pet food, and other sources of sustenance that attract animals looking for food during the winter.
  • Planting species around your trees unattractive to local wildlife, such as protective shrubs or thorny bushes, that make it harder for animals to climb up the bark.
  • Humanely trapping and relocating wildlife to protect your trees without causing harm to beneficial or even protected species.
  • Pruning low-hanging branches so they are at least 2 meters from the ground to keep deer, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals from being able to climb up that way.
  • Using motion-activated lights or sprinkler systems that startle approaching animals and scare them away.

Remove Snow and Ice as Soon as Possible

If you don’t have the tools to remove snow and ice from your trees, you may need to consider investing in them or finding professional help. Heavy snow and coatings of ice can cause damage to even healthy trees, and young trees with small, thin branches are at a higher risk of death.

Removing snow or ice from your trees should be done carefully to avoid causing damage. Start at the lower branches and work your way up by gently shaking or tapping the branches until the ice or snow falls to the ground. You can also use a broom to brush the snow off. Go slow and be gentle – using excessive force or applying too much pressure can cause branches to snap or break, especially if they are already under stress from a storm.

Green Drop Keeps Your Trees Healthy All Year Round

As a leader in lawn and tree care services throughout western Canada, Green Drop knows that no two trees are alike. That's why we tailor our care plans to the specific needs of your investments based on key considerations like their species, age, and current health status.

Green Drop is committed to sustainable and environmentally responsible practices. We use eco-friendly products and pest management strategies that protect the local environment so your trees stay healthy longer.

Reach out to the team to learn more about our season-long approach that sets your trees up for success during the winter. Our team can tell you more about what we do during the winter and when we kick-start services in the spring.

Schedule Your Free Tree Care Assessment