December 16

Tree Care In the Winter – What To Look For



Winter is a particularly hazardous time of the year for trees. While they are doing extraordinary things, like preparing for the spring growth, healing themselves, and just growing in general, they have to face off against the elements and everything else that we throw at them. It can be particularly hazardous for trees here because of the weather conditions that change quickly.

So what can you do to keep your trees healthy during the winter months? Much of that work happens now: when you have to do a final look around your trees and ensure that they are still healthy. We call this winterizing.

However, we have noticed that there are some things that people tend to forget – so we thought we’d make a list:

4. Eliminate Soil Build Up

Credit: Breakfastclubber
  • Soil can collect excess water, leading to root rot
  • Bark will soften and cause easy wounding
  • Diseases can spread thanks to soil build up

Soil is great for your trees, right? It gives trees nutrients and helps deliver water where it needs to go. Yes, this is true but it also does bad things to your trees.  SFGate explains: “Soil added around a tree reduces the amount of oxygen available to the roots and slows the rate of gas exchange in and around the roots. There may be less moisture and nutrients available to the roots or too much moisture may remain around the tree’s roots. Inadequate oxygen reaching the roots or microorganisms in the soil around the roots can lead to an accumulation of chemicals that can injure tree roots. The tree’s bark may decay where the soil is newly in contact with it. Damage or injury to the tree because of the added soil may not become apparent for several months or years and generally appears as a slow decline followed by death.”

Try to clear away any soil that you see around your tree’s base. You want a nice layer, but if it is starting to get taller, you have a huge problem. If that soil freezes when it gets colder, then your tree won’t get any water at all and it will face problems now and into the future.

3. Make Sure Trees Are Watered

winter tree
Credit: Bryan Dorrough
  • Make sure to water near the base of the tree (or plant)
  • Make sure water penetrates 12″ to 18″ deep (depending on the plant)
  • Some plants may not require it that deep, some require much deeper – each plant is different

Most of us water our plants routinely enough because we see the signs that they are thirsty and need water. However, trees don’t always show those signs right away – especially in the winter months. When soil freezes in the winter, your trees will need water. Make sure that they get it.

You should water your trees regularly in the weeks and months leading up to winter, but you always want to water them in the winter. Don’t rely on snow or ice to water your trees as they won’t do the same thing, According to Slate.

You can follow the same routine for your watering as you do during the summer, but you want to watch for any problems. Weather changes, snowstorms, ice, and erosion can lead to big differences.

2. Add Some Compost

Winter tree
Credit: Matthais Ripp
  • Helps to keep trees hydrated
  • Gives tree more nutrients
  • Eliminates ice compaction risks

Biodiversity is so important in your trees, especially in the winter months. This means that everything in your yard works together to keep everything else healthy. This means that the animals play nice with the plants, which play nice with the weather conditions, and so on. Using composted soil around your trees in the winter months will help to add vitamins and minerals to support the overall ecosystem of your yard.

According to the National Geographic Society, “With less biodiversity, these connections weaken and sometimes break, harming all the species in the ecosystem,” which might be why sometimes our yards tend to breakdown in the winter months. By taking care of the trees, you are setting the basis for the rest of your yard.

To add compost, you can simply make your own throughout the year. You can do this by putting vegetable scraps, yard debris, and even leaves around your tree. If you haven’t made any throughout the year, just layering some leaves around the base of the tree should be enough to make it through the winter. However, you might want to plan better for the rest of the year so that next year you can have compost.

1. Watch For Sunscalding

tree at dawn
Credit: Jon Bunting
  • Only happens in winter
  • Leaves may show signs, but it happens typically once most are gone
  • Bark will turn colors and get deep wounds

BuildDirect explains why sunscalding occurs the best: “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.”

This is a huge problem in the winter, so you need to not only check for sunscalding but for areas where sunscalding could be a real possibility. Since you cannot apply sunscreen to your trees, you want to protect them with coverings and protection. If you see sunscalding, contact a professional.

Contact Menchhofer Tree Care for all of your tree care needs – we can help you at any stage of the tree process, from planting and taking care of your tree to pruning and cutting it down – and of course, any seasonal problems that you might have with your trees. If you are having trouble making decisions about how to best care for your tree, we are there to help you at any time. Remember that acting sooner rather than later will help you to get the most out of your trees and keep your home safe.

Call us today at 317-661-4240.

Header photo courtesy of  oatsy40 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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