5 Most Important Winter Tree Care Tips

With temperatures already below freezing and snow flurries falling across the DC Metro area, many homeowners are starting to think about winter and all that comes with it. While you make plans for holiday meals, shopping, and family get-togethers, don’t forget to allot time to your trees. Winter tree care plans are extremely important to help your tree survive the winter season and thrive when the weather gets warmer in the spring. To help our clients, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 most important winter tree care tips. Read on to learn what you should do these next few months to keep your tree healthy.

1. Wrap Your Trees To Protect From Sunscald

Sun Scald On Ash Tree
Sunscald on Ash

Sunscald is winter damage that is commonly seen on young trees, newly planted trees, and thin-barked trees (cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, plum). Sunscald causes the tree bark to dry and crack. The University of Minnesota explains that “On cold winter days, the sun heats up bark to the point where cambial activity is stimulated. When the sun is blocked by a cloud, hill, or building, bark temperature drops rapidly, killing the active tissue” creating sunscald.

To combat this add tree wrapping to your winter tree care. We suggest only wrapping susceptible trees. You can purchase burlap tree wrap and follow simple application tutorials online to protect your trees in winter.

2. Use Anti-Desiccants On Your Evergreens

Winter Burn Boxwoods

Most of the negative effects of winter stem from the fact that trees and shrubs lose moisture through their pores which are located on their leaves/needles. During the winter months, the dry air and wind accelerate this effect leading to leaves increasing their water demand from the roots in order to survive. However, the root system usually has a hard time keeping up with the leaves’ demands. The result: leaves and needles turning brown and dying. This cycle is called winter burn, or desiccation.

Anti-desiccant treatments can solve this destructive cycle. Anti-desiccants coat the upper and lower foliage in a protective wax coating reducing the moisture lost through the leaves. Similar to moisturizers, lotions, and humidifiers we use to keep our skin hydrated in the winter, anti-desiccants provide trees & shrubs with the protection they need to flourish during winter instead of fighting to survive. On an aesthetic note, this means no more brown and dying evergreens!  

Learn more about Anti-Desiccant Treatments

3. Protect Your Trees From Deer

Deer Damage 1

Deer damage can be costly, unsightly, and even deadly to trees and shrubs. In some cases, this damage can have long term effects and disfigure your landscape. Annual estimates of deer damage are reported to exceed $250 million in damage to metropolitan households (e.g., landscape plantings). 

During the harsh winter months when the food supply is low, deer will feast on your plants and tear apart your gardens. Fortunately, because deer go after the best tasting & easily accessible foliage, simple precautions such as sprays that make foliage taste bad can be taken to deter them from your property. However; this means if your neighbors have a deer protection program and your property doesn’t, your trees & shrubs will be the most appealing to hungry deer.

Learn More About Protecting Your Trees From Deer

4. Water Your Trees

4 Essentials Of Soil Health 3

Most homeowners don’t think about watering their trees in the colder months but it’s actually one of the most important aspects of caring for a tree in winter. In fact most of winter damage isn’t caused by low temperatures, it’s caused by a lack of water and it will affect the tree all year long. Lack of water during the winter months can cause winter burn in late winter, less growth in the spring, dieback in the summer, and increased susceptibility to insects and diseases throughout all the seasons. 

Follow our winter watering tips below to make sure you get all the benefits of winter watering without hurting your tree. 

  • Focus on the critical root zone when watering. Wetting foliage is a waste of water and can promote the spread of diseases.
  • DON’T use a sprinkler. This only wets the top layer of soil and doesn’t properly water the tree.
  • Water mid-day to give the water time to soak in before temperatures drop in the evening. 
  • Water deeply & thoroughly about every 20 days.
    • Put your normal hose somewhere in the critical root zone.
    • Turn hose on to a dribble
    • Leave for 2-3 hours
    • Move the hose to a different spot in the critical root zone and leave for 2-3 hours. Repeat this step 2-3 times.
  • If the weather is especially windy water twice a month inside of every 20 days. 
  • Soil should be moist but not soaking. You should NOT be able to make a mud ball out of the soil.
  • Some portions of the soil will be wet while others will be dry. This is okay.
  • 10 gallons per inch diameter of the tree. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the tree, the more water it will need, with the average amount equal to 10 gallons per inch of diameter of the tree. 
  • Apply 5 gallons two times per month for a newly planted shrubs
  • Apply 5 gallons every 20 days for small established shrubs (less than 3 feet tall)
  • Apply 18 gallons every 20 days for Large established shrubs (more than 6 feet) tree.

Learn More About Winter Watering


Salt Damage On Evergreen Shrubs
Salt Damage On Evergreen Shrubs

The salt used to melt ice and snow on the roads and walkways, typically sodium chloride can have a devastating impact when it comes into contact with trees and shrubs. When the road salt enters the soil water can be pulled out of the tree roots dehydrating the tree. Salt caught up in the air can also coat the tree pulling the water out of the needles, buds, and branches further dehydrating the tree/shrub as well.

If you have control over what kind of salt your tree is exposed to opt for Magnesium chloride instead. Using this type of salt on your driveway and walkways can keep your tree from experiencing damage from the typical sodium chloride. If your trees are close to the road and will be exposed to sodium chloride all is not lost. Remove the salt you can see and make sure to provide your tree with enough water to flush out the soil and its system.

An Anti-Desiccant spray, which we talked about above, can help deter salt damage as well.

Learn More About Avoiding Rock Salt Damage
Learn More About Fixing Rock Salt Damage In The Spring

Now that you know the 5 most important winter tree care tips, get to work this weekend caring for your trees. Or better yet, just hire our experts to do it for you! Schedule a consultation with one of our Certified Arborists to discuss your winter tree care needs to get started. Schedule an appointment online or give us a call at 703-573-3029. 

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