How to Protect Trees & Shrubs in the Winter

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How to Protect Trees & Shrubs in the Winter

You’ve worked all year to nurture your greenery so now, ‘tis the season to protect trees and shrubs. The winter weather and resulting conditions can harm not only branches and roots, but may also present a hazard to passersby or to your home as snow accumulates potentially snapping branches or worse, causing entire trees to fall.

As the weather begins to shift to cold or wintry conditions, here are some points for consideration and steps you can take to protect your shrubs and trees:

Is your tree or shrub able to be wrapped? Shrubs and relatively small trees can be wrapped using carpet strips, nylon stockings, burlap or strong cloth, or a product such as Tree Wrap found at TheTreeFarm.com. Simply start just below where the branches start to stick out, and wrap around the tree or shrub pointing the branches upwards. This will help keep the tree insulated and the branches won’t be able to accumulate snow and break off. As animals also often turn to tree bark when smaller animals have fled for warmer conditions, the turned-up branches will protect your tree’s bark from becoming deer kibble. For larger trees such as evergreens, this may be a good solution, but you may need a professional arborist to handle the job if there are taller branches or other potential dangers.

Should you prune your trees for the season? Depending upon the tree or shrub, yes, however, it is best that you not wait until winter to start! We advise that pruning a tree in winter creates more robust growth in summer. Pruning a fruit tree creates a larger yield, and leaf reduction cuts down on the amount of energy a tree spends. Additional benefits to pruning include: reduced likelihood of tree death; reduction in co-dormant stem formation; reduction in dead bark and branches; reduced branch failure; reduced likelihood of whole tree failure. Rodale’s OrganicLife adds that pruning in the winter invigorates many trees and shrubs because during this dormant season, you can actually see more clearly the branches as there aren’t leaves in the way. This process can start mid-summer or by early fall to avoid side-effects such as sap trees “oozing”. It’s best to prune at the same time each year.

Which trees and shrubs should be pruned for the winter? Trees that should be pruned include Bradford and Callory pears, Crabapples, Poplar, Spruce, Junipers, Sumacs, Bald cypress, Cherries, Plums and Honey locust. Shrubs that need tending to are Barberries, Glossy abelia, Beauty berries, Camellias (after they finish blooming), European hornbeam, Euonymous, Mallow and Hydrangeas.

Does climate inconsistency potentially affect your trees or shrubs over the season? Yes. Shifting temperatures can fool some trees or shrubs that the season is ending and trigger their thaw. This means that some snow accumulation at the base of your tree or shrub is good for them, as it will keep the roots moist and at a steady temperature. As long as the branches have been tied up and protected from potentially cracking or breaking, a snow base is healthy.

Should I stop watering once it starts getting colder? You should continue to thoroughly water shrubs until the ground freezes, ensuring that water is penetrating 12” to 18” into the root zone.  This is especially important for newer trees and shrubs that may not have yet adjusted to their climate.

Do I really need to cover my rose bush? According to Gardeners.com, that will depend upon the type of rose. Hybrid tea roses are more delicate and will need extra protection in extreme conditions. Shrub and rugusa roses can normally survive the winter without any added protection. For those that need covering, you can access a number of step-by-step instructions such as the one found here.

How else can I protect roots? Trees and shrubs can benefit from mulching to guard from the colder months. A 4” to 6” layer of mulch best laid once the ground is frozen, will help maintain the soil temperature feeding your tree, shrub or plant. University of Minnesota Extension advises to keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk to prevent rot and discourage rodent chewing.

Is there anything else I can do to prevent animals feeding on my trees and shrubs over the winter? There are repellants that can be sprayed directly on trees or shrubs that will repel animals such as deer. A more effective option, potentially better for your greenery, is to spray the repellant directly on rags and hang those repellant-soaked strips from the lower branches.  Do note that you should re-apply the repellant to the strips the same way you would the tree or shrub as directed by the product. The ingredient thiram will deter both rodents and deer. An alternate solution is to build temporary fencing around your greenery, but these would need to be quite high to be effective.

One last point for consideration that will help to protect your trees and shrubs during the winter is to seriously contemplate where you’re planting them from the start! Sun and wind conditions can be detrimental to your trees and shrubs. For some trees, such as evergreens yew, hemlock and arborvitae, should not be planted in highly sunny or windy places, or on the south or southwest side if a building. Try to avoid planting trees and shrubs in highly salted areas, such as close to the curb or driveway, suggests University of Minnesota Extension. You can also protect evergreens by propping pine boughs or Christmas tree greens against or over them to reduce the direct sun and wind impact. Barriers made of burlap or similar materials can also create this effective protection.

Take the proper precautions and your trees and shrubs should survive the winter and be ready to thrive again come spring. Be sure to remove tiebacks or other coverings as the season changes toward spring to allow for full movement of the stem, and so that branches can receive the sun and new buds can flourish.