This article was crafted with the help of Chris Heim of The Davey Tree Expert Company .

Fall may have just gotten started, but when it comes to preparing your trees for cold weather, earlier is better. We talked to Chris Heim, district manager of the Atlanta branch of The Davey Tree Expert Company, to find out what steps you should be taking now to protect your trees for the upcoming winter.

How Do Trees Survive Winter?

icicles hanging from evergreen tree branchTrees are a beautiful focal point of the landscape during the warmer months, but when falling temperatures cause many trees to shed their leaves—and lead us to retreat indoors—we tend to lose sight of them. Luckily, trees do an excellent job of protecting themselves from the cold. Cooler weather and fewer daylight hours prompt trees to enter a state of dormancy, enabling them to survive on limited water and sunlight. Chris explains, “Just going dormant is a protection itself. Even though all the functions are not completely shut down, they slow down. It’s kind of like a bear hibernating.”

Dormancy is usually enough to enable trees to survive the winter months, but Chris points out, “The biggest fear for trees in winter is extremes in cold weather beyond normal ranges.” The lower the temperature drops, the more the moisture in the ground freezes, decreasing the likelihood that your trees will get the water they need. Also, water that a tree is able to pull from the ground may freeze inside the tree, which can cause the bark to split when the trapped water thaws. This condition is referred to as sunscald because it’s exacerbated by the sun beating down on the tree during the day, causing the wood to dry out much more quickly.

How Severe Is Frost Damage?

tree leaning from being weighed down by iceWhile the limited availability of water and sunshine in winter can be an issue, frost damage to plants is an even greater threat. Evergreen trees, nonnative species, and trees with thin bark are especially vulnerable. Trees that are native to warmer areas won’t have enough natural protection against the cold, and thin bark may not sufficiently insulate a tree against freezing wind and rain. Thin bark is also the most likely to split when moisture inside the tree freezes and then thaws, leaving the newly exposed part of the tree unprotected.

Evergreen trees are at the greatest risk of ice-related damage. Because they keep their leaves year-round, there is more surface area for ice to stick to, which weighs down the leaves and branches, increasing the likelihood that they will break and potentially cause damage or injury. According to Chris, “It’s good to have an arborist come out prior to the winter season to review your trees and identify potential hazards, like where pruning can be done to minimize dangerous situations or when a removal should be done if there’s an unsafe tree.”

How Can I Protect My Trees?

Unfortunately, you can’t entirely eliminate the possibility of cold weather-related damage to your trees, but there are steps you can take to minimize it. Chris says, “Mulching is probably one of the most important things you can do. A good layer of mulch—three inches or so—helps preserve water and acts as an insulating blanket so the root system isn’t affected by the extreme changes in temperature on the surface.”

Chris also recommends that you continue to monitor the moisture of the soil around your trees and water them as needed. People often forget about watering their trees outside of the growing season, but while it may not be necessary to water them as frequently, it is vital to ensure your trees are getting enough water all year.

Trees are surprisingly adept at surviving adverse conditions, including low temperatures, but they can still use your help. If you are unsure about the safety of your trees or have questions about how to increase their chances of survival this winter season, reach out to a local Best Pick tree expert  while the weather is still mild.

This spotlight article was crafted with the help of The Davey Tree Expert Company, a Tree Services Best Pick in Atlanta. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.