Caring for your trees and shrubs this winter

The temperatures continues to drop, all of your bulbs are planted, the flowerbeds have been cleaned out, and in some places snow flurries and accumulation have started – all signs point to the arrival of winter. While your yard and garden become dormant during these colder months, it is important not to forget about caring for your trees and shrubs throughout the winter.

Many trees native to temperature regions require a certain amount of winter cold in order to start growth satisfactorily in the spring. This is particularly true of fruit trees. A number of fruit–growing areas experience winters that are not cold enough for profitable production of various kinds of fruit.

As summer becomes a memory, the buds of many temperate–zone trees and shrubs begin to enter a condition called “rest” and will not grow even though conditions are favorable. This is nature’s way of protecting a tree from growing during warm spells in winter, only to be damaged by fatally low temperatures that may follow. Remember, you can’t fool Mother Nature!

To begin this period of rest, buds must be exposed to low temperatures, usually below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for four to eight weeks. As might be expected, different species and different varieties or selections within a species differ as to temperature effective in overcoming rest, as well as in the length of cold they need.

Depending on what part of the country you live in your trees and shrubs will require different types of care throughout the winter months.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the winter months:

  • Spread mulch around trees and shrubs if you haven’t already done so – or if the mulch you put down earlier needs replenishing. Good mulching will prevent a lot of cold burn and will keep roots from heaving out of the ground in freeze–and–thaw cycles.
  • For smaller trees and shrubs in containers, bring them indoors to force blooms ahead of schedule
  • Wind is a major problem during winter. Protect exposed trees, like broad–leaved evergreens, by using a burlap cloth or similar material (not plastic) to screen your tree to protect them from the winter wind
  • Water your trees while the temperature is above freezing. This is especially important for trees and shrubs that were just planted earlier this fall, or those that were moved from one location in your yard to another. Do not water when it is below freezing, however, because the formation of ice can damage trees and shrubs.
  • To keep evergreen branches from snapping or deforming the tree, shake off heavy snow. Remove snow with care and avoid “scraping” off any ice as it may injure the tree.
  • In warmer climates, as the weather begins to cool down use the time to prune trees. Thinning out branches that are close together, crossing one another or broken, removes considerable leaf area without affecting the overall size of the tree.
  • Warmer weather fruit trees need to be protected from insects and diseases by spraying with the appropriate insecticide. Always check labels before spraying.