After the beautiful foliage of fall has been raked from the ground, it’s easy to ignore the stark tree that remains. During winter, trees become dormant as a protective measure against the bleak weather. In fact, trees actually shed their leaves as a way to preserve their limited nutrients. While they seem to be almost completely independent parts of the landscape, the trees in your yard need more attention than you may think, especially during the wintertime. Because winter can be devastating to trees, it’s important to prepare them for the weather ahead. A tree that’s left unprepared could suffer irreparable damage—or worse, become too weak to stand and then fall on your home. The tips below will show you how to maintain your trees through the season and prevent any damage to your property.

Pruning. If you’ve ever driven around after a heavy rainstorm, you may have seen tree limbs of all sizes lying around the streets. During severe weather conditions, weak limbs are snatched from trees and taken away with the wind. These weak limbs could then be deposited on or into your home, exposing your cozy abode to the elements. Tree care professionals recommend pruning your trees during the fall—after trees are bare and before winter approaches. During the summer, not only are trees subjected to extreme temperatures, but poorly watered trees are also left vulnerable to disease and bugs. Pruned trees are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and, more importantly, safer because any weak, dead, or diseased limbs are removed during the process.

Mulching. It could be said that mulch is a tree’s best friend. In a forest, trees grow from soil enriched by the other plants, animals, and insects living in the area—providing a mutually beneficial relationship for the trees and other life around it. To give your trees the benefits of the forest floor, add mulch around the base of your tree. Organic mulch can mimic the nutritionally rich soil of the forest as well as keep the soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter. To learn more about the benefits of mulching and how to properly apply mulch around your trees, please read our blog about mulching.

Inspecting. In the winter, bare limbs present the best time for a certified arborist to inspect your trees for potential problems. Oftentimes, weak limbs and insect damage remain hidden underneath dense foliage. If your arborist comes across a weak but salvageable branch, he or she may suggest using cables or braces to help the limb withstand strong storm winds, in lieu of removing it. If the tree already has cables or braces, ask your certified arborist to examine them and ensure that they’re still working properly.

Removing. Watching someone take a chainsaw to your favorite leafy tree could elicit tears, but a sadder picture would be seeing that same tree being removed from your bedroom. If you notice that your tree is showing signs of root decay, dead branches, peeling bark, or declining foliage, you may need to have the tree removed. To be sure, have a certified arborist inspect the tree. For more information about the tree removal process, read our blog about tree removal tips.

Deer-proof. Unlike most animals, deer don’t hibernate during the winter. Instead, they hunt for any food that they can find—including tree bark—and along the way use your trees to rub their antlers against. Their antlers scrape bark off your trees, causing permanent damage. To help keep your trees safe, arborists recommend sprinkling deer repellent around the base of the tree or installing a protective barrier, such as a wire-mesh fence. If you decide to use deer repellent, you will have to reapply it after a rainstorm to ensure adequate coverage.

Snow and ice. The appearance of snow and ice on trees can provide a nice change from the bare trees of winter. However, once your trees begin to bend under the extra weight, the idyllic scene strikes panic in place of peace. Before you swoop in to rescue your bowed tree, examine it for ice. Only remove snow that is soft and fluffy, and resist removing heavier ice and snow that could cause limbs to break. Once the weather conditions improve, you can prune any broken limbs and call a professional to inspect it for further damage.

With these tips, you can maintain healthy trees throughout the winter. If you do experience a downed tree, remember to call a professional before attempting to move the tree yourself. Stay away from any trees that are leaning on power lines, and call your electric company immediately if you spot any. Keeping your trees safe during the winter is all about prevention; with proper foresight, you can protect your trees into the spring.

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Sources: The Care of Trees; The Davey Tree Expert Company.

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