5 Steps to Help Your Trees Weather the Winter Season

For many landscape owners, the winter months aren't an active time. If you too stop working on your yard during winter and keep your trees at the mercy of the weather, many may either not live or get severely damaged in the harsh cold weather. To ensure sporting a healthy landscape during winter and help your trees weather the season of stormy winds, cold Bay Area temperatures and frost, here are five easy steps that you can use:
  • Mulching: You can apply a thick layer (about 2’) of mulch around the tree’s drip line to give the roots extra warmth and a layer of protective insulation against the freezing temperatures. Such a layer will also help restrain water loss. However, you shouldn't pile up the mulch to touch the tree trunk or cover the crown.
  • Managing the irrigation cycle: Winter winds in the Bay Area often tend to dry out the soil. The resultant lack of water can produce stressful conditions, similar to drought, for your trees.  In case the ground freezes, the trees may become even more desiccated as the roots will no longer be able to absorb moisture. Therefore, you need to take adequate measures periodically to ensure that your trees are hydrated through the winter months. This will let them enjoy vitality and health in the long run.
  • Trunk protection: If you have young trees in your landscape that are sensitive to frost, you can provide them extra protection by covering their trunks with a protective geo-textile material, black polyethylene or burlap material. You may even throw a flannel sheet or a light blanket over the tree in the evening, ahead of the nights with a frost warning. You can remove the cover the next morning as the weather warms, thus letting the trees get their fair share of sunlight. Apart from offering your trees and their trunk a protective shield against frost damage, such covers can also keep them safe from destructive hungry wildlife.
  • Proper pruning: In winter, the structure of your trees becomes visible much better than they are at other times. Many landscape experts suggest pruning your trees in winter due to this reason. However, if you are pruning deciduous trees, you should wait till late winter to prune the likes of Cherries, Birches, etc. that tend to bleed. Deciduous fruit trees and flowering trees should be pruned before their buds swell. This is also the best time if you want to make massive reduction or big cuts in your trees. Ideally though, you should protect the structural integrity of your trees by restricting your pruning to removing just the poorly developed branches and dead wood. Pruning your trees such as Pine during dormancy is a good way to beat pests and prevent diseases. Since the sap flow is dormant during this period or remains stored in the root system until the weather becomes warm, there’s no sap drip to attract harmful pests or give breeding ground for the spread of disease pathogens and active bacteria.
  • Be careful while stringing outdoor holiday lights on trees: Many people string small outdoor holiday lights throughout their trees to help keep the branches warm before frost hits. However, doing this isn't easy, especially for large trees. What’s more, you have to be careful to avoid the lights touching a branch. Else, the bark may burn and get damaged if you leave the lights on for too long. Pests and insects will flock to such a damaged bark, and fighting them will be an uphill task.

Winter is a difficult time for your trees. However, you can help them withstand the frost and cold with some pro-active care and planning.