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Tree Survival Guide for Winter

Snow and ice can weigh down weak or dead branches, creating a falling hazard.

“I really can’t stay…But baby, it’s cold outside”

Frank Loesser wrote the well-known song Baby, it’s Cold Outside and performed it with his wife in 1944. This holiday classic is always sure to our warm our hearts when we hear it.  Well right now your trees are already wishing for warmth and it’s only December!   Luckily, trees are one of the most rugged living things on our blue and green marble of a planet.  But let’s face facts here – not all trees are impervious to extreme conditions, especially younglings that have been planted as recently as a couple of years ago. That’s why it’s up to us to do our part to help them survive when conditions get especially cold. Giroud is at the ready with the tips you need to keep your trees in tip-top shape this winter.

Big Trees Need a Trim

I remember the first time I shaved. It’s a momentous occasion for young men, and it makes us feel like a bonafide adult for the first time in our lives. Similarly, much like our beards, trees need to get trimmed every once in a while. This is in order to help ensure your tree’s branches can take on the extreme conditions winter continuously throws at them, especially when heavy snow and ice piles up on top of them. Overgrown branches, deadwood, or weak branches are especially vulnerable to snap off due to the extreme weight, causing them to come crashing down on your car, house, or even your noggin’, resulting in some serious and costly damage. But before you start gassing up your chainsaw and start swinging it around like Jason, it’s best to give us a call first. Our friendly certified arborists will come out for free to take a look at your trees and let you know if they’re secured for winter, or if you may need some work done. 

Wrap it Up

If you have any young saplings or trees with thin bark like a birch tree, this tip may be especially important in keeping your tree’s overall health A-Okay. These particular trees are especially susceptible to a condition called sun scalding which is caused by the freezing of cells within the tree during the night, and subsequent thawing out of cells during the day when temperatures rise above freezing. In layman’s terms, in cold weather the cells in your tree go dormant, which is a survival mechanism in order for them to last through the winter. When the sun hits part of your tree for an extended period of time, these cells can be tricked into thinking spring has sprung, leading them to wake up from dormancy. As soon as nightfall hits again, those awakened cells will most likely be killed off when the temperature dips below freezing leading to large areas of your tree’s trunk effectively being killed off. This condition can even cause the tree to crack open due to the rapid expansion and contraction of these cells, leaving a clear opening for disease and bacteria to creep in, which can kill your tree.

So what’s the solution here? Wrap it up! Crepe paper tree wrap is sold at most home improvement stores, and is easy to install on your own. Simply wrap up the trunk of your tree, overlapping each layer by one-third, and keep it on until the weather gets consistently warm. The white on the paper will reflect the heat of the sun’s rays in order to keep your tree in dormancy. But be careful, only put it on after the cold weather hits and your tree enters into dormancy, and take it off right after the weather gets warm! Putting it on too early of keeping it on too long can invite unwanted insects and disease which can cause irreparable harm to the tree.

Don’t over-mulch either! You can suffocate your tree or shrub’s root system. Two inches of mulch should be plenty.

Mulch Saves Lives

Mulching can be such a pain in the backside, but it does wonders for our flowerbeds. From improved fertility and soil health, to conserving moisture and giving your front yard that eye-popping curb appeal, mulch is worth every penny. But it may sound odd for us to recommend mulching in the winter time when you’d typically lay some down during the spring or summer months. However, the name of the game here is root protection. By adding a layer of mulch around 2 inches thick, not only do you insulate your tree’s root system for an extended period of time so it can suck up as much liquid as possible, but it also prevents moisture from leaving the soil.

Hold the Salt, Please

Whenever my parking lot turns into an ice rink worthy enough to host the Flyers, I usually take fistfuls of salt and throw it wildly about until there’s enough to melt an ice cube in 3 seconds flat. As we follow in this practices though, many of us forget that trees aren’t too keen on being salted. Sodium chloride has a nasty habit of clogging up a tree’s natural ability to soak in moisture, water, and essential nutrients, which can obviously threaten its life if too much gets into the tree’s system. Instead, find ice melting products with calcium, potassium, or magnesium chloride, all of which are far less harmful for the tree.

So there you have it! This list is a simple and effective way to make sure your trees stay healthy all winter long so you can enjoy their beauty and serenity when the leaves burst out during the spring. If you have any questions about proper tree care, give us a call at 215-682-7704 and one of our certified arborists can visit your home and give you a free consultation.

Author: Cindy Giroud

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