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Protecting Your Trees for the Winter

By John Stonaker, Dec 26 2019 03:44PM

While you want your trees to be as hardy as possible, some varieties of trees or special circumstances require a little extra attention to give your trees the help they need to make it to spring. While trees in central NJ tend to be hardy, in some cases, precautions should still be taken due to the chance of extreme weather.

Young or newly planted trees definitely need extra protection through their first few winters. Their roots are shallow and their bark is thin. There are other thin-barked trees, such as maple, poplar, aspen, and sycamore, that will need protection in colder climates or locations with high winds. If any of your trees are indigenous to climates warmer than your own, you should always provide them with special winter care. Finally, trees planted near roads or driveways must be protected from rock salt and plows that can damage them.

Take some or all of these precautions to keep your trees healthy through the winter:

Water well in the autumn. Besides hydrating the trees and keeping them healthier, water acts as an insulator because wet soil retains heat longer than dry soil does.

Remove any irrigation bags from the trees. Remember, these bags should be for temporary use only since prolonged use encourages roots to grow close to the trunk and provides opportunities for insect infestation and disease.

Stop fertilizing at least 6 weeks prior to the first frost date in your region. Fertilizer stimulates growth, and as the trees enter the autumn season, they should be transferring their energy to their roots, not to new growth.

Do not prune your trees in the autumn. Like fertilizing, pruning encourages growth. If, however, you are concerned that major branches are in danger of breakage from winter weather, talk to your tree specialist who can recommend the best approach, whether that be pruning, bracing, or cabling. Never prune major limbs yourself. Serious damage to the tree or property or injury to yourself or others could result.

After the ground has frozen, apply a 3-6” layer of shredded wood mulch around your tree to insulate the roots, but keep the mulch 6” from the trunk to prevent rot or cover for rodents or insects. The depth of the mulch depends on your climate zone.

Discourage chewing rodents with a barrier of ¼” mesh around the tree. Try to bury it 2” deep to prevent them from burrowing under it. Make sure it goes higher than the usual snow level so the rodents don’t just sit on the top of the snow and feast on your tree’s bark.

Certain trees may benefit from wrapping. If your trees are young, or if you have thin-barked trees that get strong winter sun, such trees may benefit from wrapping to avoid sunscald. Sunscald occurs when warm winter sun heats up the delicate tissue below thin bark, which is then damaged when the sun goes down and freezing temperatures return. Wrap these trees from the base to the lowest branches with tree-wrapping material. Your tree expert can recommend what is best for your tree variety.

If your trees are near a road or driveway, erect a barrier with burlap and stakes to protect the tree from splashes of melted rock salt and other road debris and to provide some defense against piles of heavy snow shoved onto your property by snowplows. A barrier of this type is also recommended if your trees are exposed to very high winds.

Certain basic precautions for all your trees, such as watering and mulching, as well as additional protections for particular needs will help your trees make it through the winter. Contact us here at Stonaker in Central New Jersey to see how we can help you.

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