Winter Tree Protection

Helping Your Plants Survive the Season


Winter weather can wreak havoc on your trees and plants. Besides the cold temperature and dangerous precipitation, animals out looking for scarce food will find your plants highly appealing. There are easy methods of winter tree protection you can put into place now—if you haven’t already—to help keep your plants safe.

How the Winter Harms Your Plants

Sun, wind, cold, and snow all play a part in damaging your trees and plants.

  • Sunscald dries out bark and cracks it, especially on the south side of a tree.
  • Wind also dries out bark and evergreen foliage. High winds break weak limbs.
  • Heavy snow and ice weigh down branches to their breaking points. On the other hand, snow cover insulates plants from wind and cold, so a lack of winter weather also doesn’t help.
  • Cold temperatures harden soil, making it harder for nutrients to reach the roots.
  • Plants that are not winter hardy will not likely survive the cold weather.
  • Frost kills flower buds and any new growth that may try to emerge.

Winter Tree Protection from the Elements

Here are a few suggestions on how you can help protect your plants.

  • Cover roots of newly planted trees and shrubs with a blanket of three to four inches of shredded wood mulch. Keep it about six inches away from the trunk.
  • Fill any cracks in the soil around new plantings.
  • Water heavily before the ground freezes to reduce frost penetration.
  • Wrap young or thin-barked trees with reflective white tree guards to help prevent sun-scald. Any dark material will absorb heat. Remove the wrap after the last frost in the spring.
  • Only keep winter-hardy plants outdoors. If they’re somewhat hardy, keep them in a sheltered area. If they’re not hardy at all, it’s best to bring it inside if you can.
  • Avoid pruning, fertilizing, and watering too late in the summer or fall. This jump-starts a growing pattern that will quickly die in winter.
  • Plant evergreens in areas protected from wind and winter sun.
  • Prop pine boughs or leftover Christmas tree greens around evergreens to help shelter from wind and sun and to catch more snow.
  • Proper pruning helps eliminate weak and dead branches that can break in bad weather.
  • Try not to plant trees and shrubs close to streets or walkways where salt is used. Any runoff damages the soil. Burlap barriers may guard some plants against salt spray.

Protecting Plants from Pests and Animal Damage

Everyone has to eat—including animals. And as plants go dormant and die this time of year, food for wildlife is scarce. Mice, rabbits, voles, and deer all feed on twigs, bark, leaves, and stems and when they’re hungry they can do a lot of damage to whatever is around.

The best way to help keep your plants off the menu is to make it difficult for animals to access. Fence off trees and shrubs, but don’t try to cover them with anything comfy. You may just create a cozy place for pests to nest in any protective covering.

Here are more tips for keeping animals away.

  • Cut grass and vegetation short to reduce protective cover for small animals, like mice and voles.
  • Remove all unnecessary brush, seal any cracks, and fence off areas to discourage rabbits from taking up residence in your yard and other hiding places.
  • Create a barrier of hardware cloth around the tree about six inches away from the trunk. Extend two to three inches below the ground line to keep out mice and 18 to 24 inches above the anticipated snow line to keep rabbits out.
  • Any fence needs to be high and sturdy enough to help keep deer from jumping it.

It takes a lot to help protect your trees and plants from winter’s wrath, but it’s all doable—especially with help from the pros. Contact Cardinal Lawns for more information on winter tree protection, and help your plants and shrubs survive the season.

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