Preventing Winter Damage: Common Tree Issues and Solutions

Reading time: 6 minutes

Winter in western Canada has plenty of enchanting qualities but can also be unforgiving, with long months of cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, and icy winds. While we may be bundled up and cozy indoors, our trees bear the brunt of these harsh weather conditions outside.

Luckily, some knowledge and a few simple tips can go a long way in protecting your trees from winter damage. And with a team including several ISA-certified arborists, Green Drop is uniquely qualified to give you this guidance.

Let's dive in and help you ensure your trees thrive through winter!

Tree Snow Winter Damage
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1. Shield Your Trees From Winter Burn

A trifecta of weather phenomena—extreme temperatures, dry air, and high winds—sweep through western Canada in the winter, leading to a condition known as winter burn. This occurs specifically in evergreen trees when they lose moisture through their needles due to the drying effect of cold winds. You'll notice the trees' needles and branch tips start to brown, gradually moving inward and up toward the trunk. The browning can worsen with dramatic temperature drops, so sometimes, it appears to come out of nowhere.

Once you spot winter burn, the good news is that you can still save your tree. The best thing to do is contact a professional tree care service so they can diagnose the tree and see how extensive the burn is. A solution might be as simple as pruning the tree, encouraging it to grow more in its healthy areas.

Proper hydration year-round is essential to combat winter burn in the future, so make sure trees are well-watered before the ground freezes. Consider wrapping your trees with burlap, a protective barrier against the sun and harsh winds. Also, avoid pruning evergreens in late fall, which can promote new growth that will be even more susceptible to winter burn.

2. The Weighty Issue of Snow Load

Heavy snowfall is common in this part of the world, and while it can be magical, it poses a significant threat to trees. As snow accumulates on branches, they bend to try and bear the weight. However, especially in older or weaker trees, or when the snowfall piles up quickly, the branches may eventually crack, snap, or break completely.

Keep an eye on your trees' snow load and gently brush off the excess after a heavy snowfall. Don't attempt to break up ice, however, as you can actually cause more damage (more on that in a minute!). This simple act of removing the snow goes a long way in preventing branches from snapping under the weight, ensuring your trees stand tall come spring.

3. Safely Break Through Ice Accumulation

Like snow, ice accumulates on tree branches and can cause severe damage. Although it's tempting to remove ice forcefully, don't. You may very well break up the ice, but you also stand a high chance of breaking the branch. Instead, gently tap branches to encourage ice to break on its own. Also, avoid using products designed for melting ice, as their ingredients are toxic to trees and other plants.

4. Prevent Frost Heaving

Frost heaving is another potentially damaging winter phenomenon, especially in regions with fluctuating temperatures where it often freezes. It occurs when the soil alternately freezes and thaws, causing the ground to swell and push tree roots upward. The result is exposed roots and a weakened foundation for your trees. Depending on where a tree is planted, frost heaving may also damage other plants, sidewalks, fencing, or even your home's foundation.

Mulching around the base of your trees is an excellent strategy to combat frost heaving. A thick layer of mulch insulates the ground and roots, regulating soil temperature and preventing (or at least slowing) the process of rapid freezing and thawing. Using mulch protects the tree's roots and provides crucial moisture retention during the winter months.

If you notice signs of heaving in any of your trees, contact a tree specialist as quickly as possible. Avoid pressing on the soil or attempting to straighten the tree, as this can cause serious, permanent damage to the roots.

5. Protect Your Trees From Winter Sun Damage

Sunscald, sometimes also called frost cracking, is a silent winter menace. It occurs when temperature fluctuations and direct sunlight wreak havoc on tree bark, most often on trunks' south and southwest sides. Similar to frost heaving, tissues in the trunk freeze, then quickly thaw when heated by sunlight. This cycle continues, causing the tissues to contract and expand constantly. Eventually, it results in long, deep cracks in the trunk, which are essentially scars.

Combat sunscald by wrapping tree trunks with protective materials like tree wraps or burlap, which form a shield against harsh sunlight and temperature spikes. For a slightly more permanent solution, you can also paint the southern side of the trunks with white interior paint.

6. Fend Off Hungry Wildlife

Winter can also be harsh for local wildlife, and hungry animals often turn to trees for a snack. To prevent serious damage, protect the lower trunk of your trees with some sort of barrier. Many choices are available, and it largely comes down to personal preference and the type of wildlife that frequents your yard. For example, you can use chicken wire, plastic tree guards, or heavy-duty tree wrap.

Contacting a tree care service company or arborist and giving them some details about your trees and property can help you find the best solution.

Winter Tree Protection Night
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FAQs About Winter Tree Damage

How do you know if a tree is in good condition?

A tree in optimal health will have robust, colourful leaves, sturdy branches, and a sturdy trunk. You should also see some new growth in the spring and summer, no (or minimal) dead branches, and no visible signs of pests or disease.

What are the signs of a bad tree?

A distressed tree may have brown needles or branches, discoloured leaves, peeling or cracked bark, hollow areas, and evidence of pests or diseases.

What can damage a tree?

Various factors can jeopardize a tree's health, such as extreme weather events (including winter conditions), pests, improper pruning, and diseases.

Trust Green Drop for Winter Tree Care

Knowing what type of issues to look for is important for your trees' survival in western Canada's severe winters. By implementing these practical tips and solutions, you can ensure your trees weather the cold months and emerge strong, healthy, and vibrant next spring.

You don't have to do it alone, though. At Green Drop, our ISA-certified tree arborists understand this region's unique winter challenges. Our knowledgeable team is equipped with the tools and expertise to handle even the most extensive tree care jobs, no matter the season.

Don't let winter damage take a toll on your trees—contact Green Drop for tailored service and reliable, expert care. Check out all of our winter services and get a free estimate today.

Schedule Your Free Tree Care Assessment