Protecting Trees from Winter Damage

Protecting Trees from Winter Damage

If you have ever planted and nurtured a tree along for two or three years and then had it suddenly die in the spring, or not leaf out at all after winter, you know how heartbreaking it can be. You not only lost the tree, but the time and effort it took to plant and nurture it. Here are a few tips to help ensure that your trees will endure our Idaho winters and burst into life again in the spring.

Feeding. Most trees do a large amount of their root growth during September, October, and November. Making sure they have sufficient nutrients available in the fall will go a long way towards insuring their long term health and growth. Also, because trees live for many years they are more likely to suffer from deficiencies of minor plant foods like iron. We formulated Town & Country Tree & Shrub Food with high iron and sulfur content to counteract our alkaline soils in east Idaho. And it’s slow release nitrogen will continue to feed for several months.

Feed your trees only in the spring and/or fall. Summer feedings can sometimes promote early fall growth that is more susceptible to frost damage. Mid September through October is the ideal time to feed most trees. Simply spread the granules throughout the root zone of the tree including beyond the drip line a few feet. Then water it in well to carry the plant food down to the roots.

Even better, feed your trees with Dr. Jimz Save-a-Tree. This amazing organic based fertilizer is the best plant food I’ve ever found. It is a liquid and is applied by hand, so it’s a little more time consuming, but there is nothing better. I would especially recommend it for extra special trees or those that are struggling. Because Save-a-Tree is organic and will not force feed the tree. It can be applied anytime of the year. But early fall is the best time of all.

Watering. Even if you don’t feed your trees it is extremely important that you give them a deep watering before winter. You need to apply enough water to soak down about 2 feet. In most soils that means applying about 2 inches of water. You can apply the water by simply placing a hose sprinkler under the tree. Place a tuna fish can in the area also and move the sprinkler when it has filled the can to 2 inches deep. You can also use a soaker hose or even just let an open ended hose run for a period of time. But it is a little more difficult to measure the amount of water that way.

Wrapping a young tree in my yard.

Wrapping trunks. If you have young trees or any trees that have very thin bark you might want to consider wrapping the trunks with a white breathable tree wrap to protect them from sun scald damage during the winter. I recommend wrapping them in October and taking the wrap off in April. The purpose for the wrap is to reflect the sunlight off of the trunk in the winter to keep the trunk from heating up on sunny days when the nighttime temperature is well below freezing, or even below zero. It is the constant freezing and thawing of the bark that can cause the bark to crack and even die

Fall wrapped evergreens. Photo: Univ. of Minnesota

Wrap evergreens. If you have planted some new young evergreens this year you might consider wrapping them with burlap to protect them from windburn this winter. Older trees are usually fine because their roots have penetrated deep below the frost line, but younger trees have shallow roots. Once the ground freezes they have no way to replace the water lost from the needles due to winter sun and wind. Wrapping with burlap will protect them from both sun and wind while still allowing air circulation. Never wrap with plastic as it can heat up inside and kill the trees. Arborvitae and Alberta Spruce are the most susceptible to winter burn. Wrapping evergreens with burlap can also protect the plants from damage by a heavy snow pack, or from hungry deer. Colorado spruce and mugho pine generally need no wrapping.