Summer is over, and with winter quickly approaching it’s time to start preparing for cold weather. For many of us, the winter will mean days spent inside snuggled up inside a nice warm fire; but for the trees on our property, the cold months can prove to be stressful.
In the Portland area, temperatures have been known to drop as low as minus 10 degrees, putting many native and non-native plants at risk. While many species of trees are accustomed to surviving in freezing conditions, they still must be properly cared for in order to keep the cold damage to a minimum. Here are a few tips for taking care of trees during the coldest parts of the year:
- Wrap them in cold-weather blankets
While some of the trees on your property may be adapted to survive the frost that comes with winter, others will not. Certain popular varieties, such as citrus, cherry, and palm trees can be particularly vulnerable to the rapid changes in temperature that occur during the winter. During the day, it may be relatively warm, but as it gets dark it can become very cold very quickly. This swift temperature change puts trees under a lot of stress and can lead to frost cracking, an injury to the bark of the tree that can leave it vulnerable to attack from insects, fungi, and bacteria. This problem can be particularly severe if the tree is young. Head to your local hardware store to purchase a tree blanket, which you can wrap your tree with during short periods of extremely cold weather.
- Prune your trees in the fall
If a tree is not properly pruned during the autumn months, this can lead to a variety of problems during the winter. Once it gets cold outside, it’s the weakest branches that are most vulnerable. Before the weather becomes too cold, inspect your tree for any young, weak or damaged branches and remove them if you can. It’s important to do this during the fall – not during the summer – because if you prune the tree too early, new growth can begin leaving your tree covered in small, younger branches by winter. If you have larger branches that appear to be vulnerable but that you do not wish to remove, you can reinforce them by tying them up with rope.
- Use an organic mulch to keep your tree hydrated
As the weather becomes colder, the ground will begin to freeze and harden. When it does so, trees will have a much more difficult time absorbing moisture from the soil. With access to water limited, trees can begin to dry out. This problem can be exacerbated by the wind and the relative heat of the early spring months, which warms the tree without thawing the ground. Procure some organic mulch from your local hardware store and place a layer of it around the base of your tree. This will help insulate your tree, preventing it from becoming too cold. It will also help trap the valuable moisture that your tree needs.
- Keep animals away
Due to the scarcity of food during the winter months, various wild animals may seek out your tree as a source of shelter and sustenance. There are a number of animals that do this depends on where you live. Rats, mice, deer, squirrels, rabbits, opossums and raccoons are the most common to take up residence. You will notice the telltale signs of their presence when you see teeth marks, ragged fallen branches, and stripped bark where they gnaw on the wood.
Depending on the animal that is causing the problems, there are a number of ways you can deal with this. The first step is to make sure you pick up any fallen fruits or branches that are lying around the tree. These will attract pests. A tree guard, scented with a natural smell that animals dislike, such as pepper, can repel animals harmlessly. Other repellents are made from predator urine, which strongly warns animals to stay away. Bait, left a certain distance away from the tree, can serve as an alternative food source that will prevent animals from approaching your tree. For larger animals such as deer, a popular trick is to hang scented bars of soap from the branches of the tree. This method is inexpensive, but the odor of the soap is offensive to deers’ sensitive smell and will help to keep them away.
- Other tree care tips
Ultimately, caring for your tree during the winter requires attention to detail and some common sense. If you are salting your sidewalks during winter to prevent them from icing over, take care that the salt does not end up on or around the trees. It can do serious damage, including leaf scorching and branch dieback.
If you ever find yourself unsure of what to do, or if your tree seems to be damaged, do not hesitate to contact an arborist. An arborist is someone who professionally cares for and maintains trees, and they will be trained on the best way to keep your tree healthy during the winter months.