December 12

4 Signs Your Trees Need Help This Winter



When it is winter time, we often don’t realize that our trees need attention. Many people believe that the trees simply fall asleep, but that isn’t the case at all. Instead, they do go into some sort of maintenance mode, but they also start working to prepare for the next year. There is a lot of work going on under the surface, and you have to pay attention to ensure that the work is done properly and safely.

By now, most people know the basics of winter tree care: cleaning off snow and ice so that branches aren’t broken by the weight, looking for problematic branches that may fall on buildings, cars, or power lines, and some people even know to check the soil around the tree so that water and nutrients can get to the roots and the rest of the tree.

However, there are some warning signs that people don’t know – and they need to. Here are four more things you want to look for:

4. Leaves Won’t Fall

Leaves still on trees in the snow.
Credit: Leaf Watoru
  • Know your trees
  • Do not remove any of the leaves by yourself
  • May be used for shelter for animals

One of the first signs that we are in for a tougher winter is when the trees don’t shed all of their leaves. While many people think this is the sign of a warmer winter, it is actually the sign of a winter season that escalated too quickly for the trees. Many animals will stick around your trees during this time of the year as well, introducing pests and potentially bringing diseases with them – which can attack your trees when their defenses are down.

Per the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, “Sometimes, early cold weather or frosts may interrupt the abscission process or “kill” leaves quickly. In these cases, the occurrence of marcescent leaves may increase. Lacking killing frosts, why would trees “decide” to retain their leaves? It is impossible to ask the trees, but we can speculate.”

It is really important to know your trees and be able to ascertain what is a bad thing and what is a good thing. However, you may want to just pay more attention and look behind the leaves when you do your inspection.

3. Woodpeckers Love Trees

Two woodpeckers in trees.
Credit: Charles de-milles Iles
  • More than one woodpecker is a bad sign
  • Listen to the sound that they make
  • Consistent presence by a woodpecker

Woodpeckers are amazing birds that many of look for in the winter months because they are easier to spot and are still somewhat fun to see. However, most people don’t pay enough attention to realize that woodpeckers have very specific behavior that they rarely stray from – and if they do, it could be a sign. Per the Farmer’s Almanac, most woodpeckers like to keep their distances from each other. If you see more than one on a tree at a time, it is a sign that a hard winter is coming and you need to pay attention. There are a few other signs you want to look at as well when it comes to these noisemakers – in particular, if that noise is louder than usual.

Of course, you don’t have to panic if you hear or see more woodpeckers, you just need to prepare yourself. Seeing one woodpecker is actually a good sign that your tree is still desirable and healthy enough that the woodpecker wants to be on it.

2. Halos Around the Sun

Halo around the sun.
Credit: James Mann
  • Never look directly into the sun
  • Learn how to read the sun and the sky
  • Gauge upcoming storms easily

Something that many people have written off over the years as “folklore” has actually proven to be useful. One of the biggest items? If you see halos around the sun, you know that a hard winter is coming and you need to prepare yourself for the worst of the worst. Of course, this doesn’t always pan out, but it is something interesting to think about and look for in the winter sky.

According to ThoughtCo, “Halos are caused by sunlight and moonlight refracting off of ice crystals in cirrus clouds (the cloud type that precedes an approaching warm front). Seeing high level moisture is a good sign that moisture will soon also be moving in at increasingly lower levels. So the association between a halo and rain/snow is one bit of folklore that rings scientifically true.”

1. Sun Scalding On Trees

Sun burned leaves on a tree.
Credit: Waferboard
  • Typically happens once trees lose their leaves
  • Only happens in winter
  • Bark will turn colors and perhaps crack

One of the biggest problems with the strength of the winter sun and the lack of trees is that our trees are opened up to getting a sunburn – yes, a sunburn. Trees are protected in the summer months, but with the strength of the sun and the prevalence of snow, the amount of sun exposure increases and trees can get a sunburn.

BuildDirect explains: “The active cells in tree bark are killed when they are exposed to direct sunlight and suddenly cut off from that source. When this happens, the bark becomes darker, turning a reddish or brown color. Rough, cracked or falling away bark can are also signs of sunscald.”

While you can’t apply sunscreen to your trees (though you should think about applying it to yourself when you are shoveling), you want to prevent the sunburn from occurring. There are a few different methods, but they are best left up to a professional who knows just what to do.

Even when they don’t look like much, your trees are some of the most important parts of your yard. Diseases, fungi, and other sicknesses can easily worm their way into the tree and cause problems throughout the rest of the year as well. If you see any of these signs, it might mean that you have to pay a little more attention this year.

If you are looking for a team that will look after your trees and help nurse them back to health if something does happen this winter, consider giving our team at Menchhofer Tree Care a call at 1 (317) 661-4240. We will be there for you – even when it is cold outside!

Header photo courtesy of stanze on Flickr!

Menchhofer Tree Care

About Steve Menchhofer

Steve Menchhofer has been caring for the trees of the Indianapolis, Indiana metro area for over 40 years. Steve and his team of experienced, certified arborists are members of the International Society of Arboriculture and the Indiana Arborist Association.

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