No one ever said Mother Nature goes easy on trees and shrubs on Massachusetts properties.
After a wet spring; a warm, dry summer; and a colorful, transitional fall, Old Man Winter can come in with a flurry, and your plants may not have the time to adapt to the change.
But there are some things homeowners in Needham, Concord, Danvers, and Cape Cod can do to better prepare their trees for winter, giving them a fighting chance to survive the harsh conditions.
Let’s discuss how to winterize trees and shrubs so you can properly secure your home landscape for the coming colder months.
How To Protect Trees & Shrubs In Winter
Winter can deliver a variety of weather conditions – from ice storms to bitter cold winds to prolonged below-freezing temperatures.
This presents some winter challenges for not only you (time to add on all the extra layers – from gloves to hats to scarves) – but also your trees and shrubs.
In fact, here are some of the ways winter can cause damage to your beloved plants:
- Early sudden freezes (mild to freezing temperatures over a few days) can damage plant tissue that hasn’t adapted to the cold yet.
- Dry, winter winds can cause winter burn on evergreen foliage.
- Frozen soil can limit trees’ ability to take in water, especially newer plantings.
- Snow can insulate plants from wind and sub-zero temperatures, so lack of snow can actually be a problem for plants.
- Midwinter thaws can trick plants into breaking dormancy early and sunny days can heat up thin-barked trees, damaging plant tissue that may show up as cracks later on.
Preparing Trees For Winter
When should I prepare my trees for winter? The autumn months are the perfect times to get your trees ready for the colder season of the year. In fall, a slow-release fertilizer application helps give your trees the nutrients they need going into the winter.
You also want to water your tree properly to ensure it’s well-hydrated. This means thoroughly watering your trees up until the ground freezes.
Annual mulch applications can help preserve that soil moisture. You want to make sure you cover the roots of trees with 2 to 4 inches of shredded hardwood mulch.
Sunscald can be particularly concerning for young, newly planted trees or thin-barked trees like cherry, crabapple, maple, honey locust, and plum. You might be asking, “Should I cover my trees for winter?” You can prevent sunscald by wrapping the trunk with white commercial tree wrap or plastic guards to reflect the sun and keep the bark at a consistent temperature. Improperly planted trees will be at a greater risk of this.
Which trees should be wrapped for winter? The University of Minnesota Extension recommends wrapping young trees for approximately two winters and thin-barked trees for five winters. Remember to remove this sunscald protection in the spring.
Preparing Shrubs For Winter
When it comes to trimming, you might be asking, “Are you supposed to cut bushes down before winter?” It is important to cut down some perennials and ornamental grasses in late fall to improve aesthetics and ensure those plants come back healthier in spring.
Evergreen shrubs can suffer from winter burn as a result of lost moisture due to sunny, cold days and harsh winds. Frozen ground doesn’t allow an evergreen shrub to take in enough water to replace that moisture loss. This can cause brown needles on part of the shrub or the whole shrub. This is usually more visible on the side of the evergreen shrub that gets the most sun or wind.
Should I water my shrubs for winter? Making sure evergreen shrubs are irrigated properly before the season is important. Water your shrubs normally until the ground is frozen; this gives them a much better chance of dodging winter burn.
You can also have a certified arborist apply an anti-desiccant spray to your particularly susceptible shrubs. This wax-like coating helps evergreens avoid moisture loss in winter.
Should you wrap shrubs in winter? If they are directly exposed to a lot of sun or harsh winter winds, you can protect them by loosely wrapping them with burlap and securing it with pins or twine. Remember to remove this wrap once temperatures warm again in early spring.
At Hartney Greymont, we have both ISA and Massachusetts-certified arborists located in Needham, Concord, Danvers, Cape Cod, and the surrounding areas who can help your pre-winter tree and shrub preparations.