Your Complete Guide to Winter Tree Care

newly planted trees

While bare branches in winter can cause the trees in your yard to appear to be dead, that’s actually far from the truth. Trees are forever growing and changing throughout the year, just like us.

In Colorado, winter is the driest season of the year. Tree roots continue to grow in the winter, which means they still get thirsty!

But what about all that snow? Shouldn’t that help hydrate the trees in our yard?

Even with snow on the ground, Colorado winters are dry. For every 12” of snow, only about 0.5” of water is provided.

So while snow does water the roots of your trees, it’s still important to properly prepare in the fall to help your trees make it through the dry days of winter, too. And if your trees are new they’ll need even more care, as newer trees are more susceptible to winter damage and drought.

Make Bob Ross proud by having happy trees year-round with these handy winter-care techniques.

How to Get Your Trees Prepped for Winter in the Fall

Set yourself (and your trees) up for success by preparing for dry winter weather during the fall.

1. Water Your Trees

Begin the protection process for your trees in early to mid-November by watering them once a week. You want to use enough water so the roots will be dampened without being soaked. Continue to do this until the ground freezes.

2. Spray the Leaves

Next, spray the leaves and branches of your trees with an anti-dessicant. Anti-dessicant sprays coat the leaves of the tree with a waxy-like substance that makes it easier for the tree to retain water.

Apply the spray once in mid-November, and again in February.

3. Add Mulch to the Base

Mulch is an important resource that not only helps provide nutrients for your trees, but also help insulate the roots from the cold (while preventing them from losing too much water).

Use an organic mulch that is made up of natural components like straw, seed hulls, grass clippings, and other organic materials from your yard. Spread a thin layer of about 2 inches around the base of the tree.

Wait until the ground freezes to spread your mulch, or critters will make it into their new winter home!

4. Prune the Branches

The combination of late-blooming trees and early frosts can be a major threat to the health of your trees.

Ice can cause the cell walls of the blossomed branches to rupture, making them less likely to bloom again next year.

To prevent this, you’ll need to wait to prune the tree until late fall, when your tree has gone dormant and you can be sure to prune off the vulnerable growth.

5. Wrap the trunk

The constant pattern of thawing and re-freezing trees experience can cause the trunk to crack, a condition called “sunscald.”

To prevent sunscald, use crepe paper. Wrap it around the base of your trees up to the branches. This helps prevent frost build up, and insulates the trunk.

Tree Care in the Winter

Prepping your trees for winter in the fall is just the first step. Now it’s time to routinely take care of your trees during the winter months to keep them happy and healthy until spring.

1. Water your trees

During the winter, water your trees once every 3-4 weeks during the days when the temperature is above 40 degrees. Do your watering early in the day to keep the water from freezing at night.

2. Clear branches

A build-up of ice and snow can cause branches to crack and break, making it harder to grow back in the spring. Clear off the branches of your tree regularly using a broom.

If there’s ice build-up, wait until temperatures are above freezing and use hot water to help melt it off.

3. Avoid snow melt by roots

Avoid using snow melt salts anywhere near your trees or the ground where your trees absorb their water from. The chemicals in the salts cause the trees to have a difficult time absorbing the water and nutrients they need.

New vs. Established Tree Care

Depending on the age of your tree, winter care can look slightly different.

Newer trees are more susceptible to winter damage and drought. They’ll need to be watered a bit more throughout the summer and fall, then once every 2 weeks in the winter when the snow and ice are melted.

To help guide your water usage, use about 10 gallons of water for every inch in diameter of the tree trunk. Newer trees with about a 2-inch diameter trunk will need about 20 gallons of water per watering.

You Can Plant in Winter, Too!

Winter might be the last timeframe you would imagine planting trees. But most trees (besides Evergreens) can get a head start in winter!

Plant the seeds when the ground is cool, but not frozen. You can use a soil thermometer to help you gauge this.

Test the soil a few days in a row with your thermometer. If all 3 days the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, it’s ready for some planting!

If it’s too cold, wait it out until the next season.

Once the seed is planted, add a 2-inch layer of organic mulch to help it retain moisture and stay insulated.

You’re Well on Your Way

Keeping your trees healthy through the winter is an easier feat than you might have imagined. With just some organic mulch, crepe paper, spray, and a watering can, you’re well on your way to having the healthiest trees on the block.

Keep this blog handy, because chances are your neighbors will be begging for your secret!

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