Trees are remarkable for their resilience, growing stronger every year even as they weather the elements season after season. However, younger trees may require some special attention to keep them healthy during the coldest parts of the year. Especially if the tree you’ve planted is three years old or younger, you will need to take some extra steps to care for it. What exactly needs to be done will vary depending on the climate and the species of tree. Here are a few tips to make protecting your young trees during the wintertime a breeze:
Make sure they get plenty of water
The colder it gets, the more difficult it will be for your tree to get the water it needs. As the ground freezes, the soil will not absorb moisture, potentially leading to dehydration. This can be a devastating problem for younger trees as they do not have the strong root system that older trees do and thus cannot reach water that is deep in the ground.
Regular watering is especially important for young evergreen trees as they do not lose their leaves during the winter and have an increased need for moisture. Water young trees regularly, giving them extra attention during the late fall, right before the ground freezes. If the temperature doesn’t drop too drastically during the winter, the ground may not freeze at all, in which case you should continue to periodically water your tree.
Watering a tree is not quite the same process as watering a houseplant; you will need to use a garden hose. Keep the water pressure very low – at just a trickle – and place the hose at the base of your tree. Check the soil regularly. If the soil starts out very dry you may have to run the hose for several hours. Your goal should be to give your tree an amount of water equal to about one inch of rainfall per week.
Protect them from sunscald
Sunscald, which is also known as southwest injury due to its tendency to occur on the southwest side of the tree, can be potentially fatal to young deciduous trees. Thin-barked trees are particularly vulnerable. During a sunny winter day, the sun can actually cause the bark to warm up quite a bit. Then, after the sun goes down, the bark will experience a dramatic drop in temperature. This sudden change from hot to cold puts the tree under a lot of stress and can cause the bark to crack and scar. This can kill your tree. However, it’s relatively easy to prevent. You will just need to ensure that the sun does not heat up the bark during the day. Do this by wrapping a few layers of either paper or plastic tree guard up to the first branch of your tree. The tree guard wrap will reflect the light away and keep your tree safe from the dramatic temperature changes.
Keep animals away
Food becomes a scarce commodity in the winter for wild animals. This means they may turn to your tree as a source of nourishment. Any number of animals can do serious damage to a young tree during the winter months; squirrels may strip the bark away, while deer can show up and chew on branches. There are a number of ways to keep animals from bothering your tree. Larger animals can be kept away with fencing, although it will need to be relatively high as deer can easily jump over a six foot fence. Smaller animals can be kept away with baits – placing an alternative food source near the tree so they leave the tree itself alone – or with repellents, which can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Protect the branches
During the winter, the weakest branches of a young tree can be broken off by a buildup of ice and snow. If this happens, the tree can be left susceptible to disease, which can be fatal for an immature tree. To prevent this, prune your tree in the late fall, removing the smallest and weakest branches. Take care not to prune too early, however. If you allow the branches to start growing back before the winter then the tree will have many young, vulnerable branches when the weather starts to cool. If you have evergreen trees, you can use twine to tie the center branches together, leaving them less susceptible to the buildup of ice and snow.
Contact an arborist
As young trees are particularly vulnerable to the elements, it’s not a bad idea to contact an arborist to advise you on the best course of action to take. If needed, a professional tree service can wrap your tree for you, apply a layer of mulch to help trap moisture, prune your tree, or handle any other services that may be required. They will also be able to advise you on the exact best way to protect a particular species for the temperatures that are expected this year. While you should certainly do everything you can to care for your tree yourself, the help of a professional is invaluable especially when dealing with particularly vulnerable trees.