Learn how to keep trees healthy in winter with these timely winter tree care tips for protecting your trees, shrubs and bushes.
Winters in Wisconsin, as well as the Midwest, can be brutal, but with a little thoughtful preparation and TLC, your trees, shrubs and bushes will stay healthy throughout the season.
It’s a wonder that trees survive winter at all. But they do and have for millennium. But practically speaking, being a living entity in your yard, it still needs some assistance now and again, but more so during winter.
You might think that winter should be a vacation from everything outdoors, including caring for your trees but not so. It’s just the opposite. Take the time to inspect your trees, so that they will be in prime shape for spring.
5 Tips How to Keep Your Trees Healthy in Winter
Winter is the perfect time for homeowners to be proactive by inspecting dormant trees, bushes and shrubs because the branches and trunks are much easier to see.
Start with these things to look for:
Snow and Ice
The type and kind of snow can have an impact on fragile trees and shrubs. Heavy snow weighs down the branches and can overly bend or break them, regardless whether it’s a conifer (evergreen) or deciduous plant.
Even light snow when piled high can deliver similar blows to plants over time.
But what is more devastating is ice. Ice not only weighs down branches but it is also unyielding—which means that an ice build up can’t be easily blown off, like snow. And, ice doesn’t allow the branch to be pliable when especially when there’s relentless winter winds. This weakens branches and will snap if the ice isn’t removed.
Be Safe Not Sorry – Ice and snow are hazards of winter to plants but they can also be a hazard to your health if you’re not careful. Make sure that whatever work you do outdoors, it’s done on level ground and without excessive ice or snow. Avoid climbing, too. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and call in a professional arborist who can assist you in removing dead or fallen limbs or trees safely.
Plantings Near Buildings
On one hand, it’s great for some plants to be protected by a structure, but the downside might just be the structure itself.
For example, if a tree, bush or shrub is planted near a house or building and it has a build up of ice or snow, this could possibly cause harm to the plant, especially when temperatures warm and shifting chunks of ice or snow falls to the ground.
You might not be able to protect each and every plant from being squashed by winter snow, but for the future, you might want to consider planting or replanting trees and shrubs away from gutters and downspouts, so that this won’t happen.
Melting snow and ice not only provide a hazard to plants from above, but it can also be a danger to winter plants if your plants are located in a low-lying area or where water can pool. This is because the roots can literally freeze to death thanks to water turning to ice around the plant’s root system.
Keep in mind, while you might not have control over thawing or the ebb and flow of water during winter, this is something you might want to make a note of to address in the spring.
In the future, be proactive to move any plantings that might not benefit from excessive water to a place that is more in line with its species needs. Or create swales that help contain and direct water away from plant beds and low-lying trees, bushes and shrubs.
Winter not all doom and gloom. I’ve found that a bit of fresh air is just what is needed to take a seasonal view of my property and get inspired for the warmer months to come.
5 Tips for Winter Tree Care
Keep your outdoor plants healthy this winter with this handy to-do list:
Not everything about snow is bad. In fact, snow offers great insulating properties that keeps your outdoor plant’s fragile roots from drastic temperature changes.
Fluctuating temperatures can damage or destroy them if left to the open air. Thus, controlling the ground temperature encourages healthier roots—which is a definite plus for your trees, bushes and shrubs.
Besides protection from the cold temperature, mulch also helps with keeping much needed moisture near the roots for spring.
Because water is a necessity for all living things, including plants, maintaining a moist but not wet environment for plants will keep your shrubbery healthy and vibrant for spring leaf out.
To help trees stay healthy in winter, add a thin layer of mulch (3 inches or less) around the base of the tree but not around the trunk. In addition, it’s best to wait until after the ground freezes before mulching especially in the northern climes.
RELATED: Winter Lawn Care Tips
Some trees like arborvitae and newly planted trees need protection from animals who chew or rub against them. Thus, the best way for protecting newly planted trees is to wrap them.
Keep in mind that wraps are temporary and any and all wrapping should be removed with the last frost.
How to Wrap Your Trees for Winter (Video)
While wrapping for some plants is a great idea, other plants need a more significant barrier to keep them protected and healthy over winter.
This is where shrub protectors come in handy. They offer a physical buffer from frigid winds and flying snow that protects fragile shrubs, bushes, and small trees.
How to Build and Use Wooden Shrub Protectors – This Old House (Video)
Pruning is a must to keep trees healthy in winter, or for that matter, anytime of year. But it’s seemingly more beneficial to a tree’s health when done in late winter early spring, especially for quite a number of native plant species.
Even experts encourage homeowners to make a date to get out and inspect trees, bushes and shrubs to see if there are any “hot spots,” meaning broken limbs, rotting, stress cracks, etc., that might put the tree in danger in the months and seasons to come.
Obviously, it’s best to be proactive with pruning and cutting branches that are hazards to man or beast. And, if necessary, do it sooner than later.
Winter’s a great time for arborists to do their trade, since they will have clear access to the trees and won’t have to fight greenery to remove brush.
So don’t worry about the little buds that you see on the tips of the branches. These are protected in a covering that won’t affect the tree’s interior food supply, even if you have to prune the branches they’re on.
How to Properly Prune a Tree in Winter (Video)
In winter the ground is frozen, which means if you have to remove a tree (or two) you’re less likely to cause a lot of damage to neighboring trees and shrubs, as well as minimal impact on your existing landscape.
From an arborist point of view, it’s easier to see where to drop a tree in order to avoid damaging other plantings, as well as a breeze to clean up, since they won’t have to fight excessive greenery to remove the diseased or damaged tree branches and trunks.
Wintering Plants in Containers – Proven Winners (Video)
But not all plantings are found in garden beds, some plantings–trees included are located in containers. Now, it goes without saying that any time you can bring your plants indoors, especially when it comes to containers, do it. But if you can’t, protect your container grown trees and shrubs with these helpful tips.
In the end, the work you do in the winter protecting your trees, shrubs and bushes, as well as providing a bit of TLC, will give them a great start in the spring and the summer months ahead. Happy Gardening!
For more great gardening tips and tricks, be sure to check out Wisconsin Homemaker’s Garden Section.