9 Ways to Protect Your Trees From Winter Storms

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated January 6, 2022
Farm with big trees covered with snow
Photo: Conny Sjostrom / Adobe Stock

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A heavy tree branch snapping under the weight of snow and falling on a car. A beautiful old tree collapsing from harsh winds. These are common nightmare scenarios for homeowners who love the trees on their property, but fear the damage they may cause in the winter.

In many ways, snow, wind, ice, and prolonged freezing temperatures can stress, damage, and even kill trees. That’s why it pays to prepare for winter storms when it comes to your landscaping. Read on for some simple strategies to protect your trees this winter.

1. Check Trees for Warning Signs

Throughout the year, check your trees to make sure they’re healthy. For expert feedback, ask a certified arborist for their opinion on your tree’s stability. Look out for warning signs, like mushrooms growing out of tree bases (which signal decay) and dead or hanging branches. Ensure that you also check for roots growing around the tree trunks (known as stem-girdling roots), weak branch unions, and heavy horizontal branches.

2. Prune Trees

A heavy tree branch snapping under the weight of snow and falling on a car
Photo: Thomas Söllner / Adobe Stock

Hire a licensed and insured local tree service to prune or, if necessary, remove parts of your trees, especially at-risk limbs or plants that could cause serious damage if they fell. It’s also important to get rid of low-hanging branches that could touch the ground if weighted down by snow. After all, low-hanging branches can make trees more prone to insect infestation. If pruning in the late fall or winter, limit the total number and size of cuts per tree to avoid exposing too much heartwood to the harsh weather.

3. Bring Potted Trees Indoors

Trees in outdoor pots are more vulnerable to harsh winter weather. To protect them, bring potted trees inside before the temperature drops below freezing. Put the potted trees somewhere with south-facing windows, so they get enough sunlight to make it to spring.

4. Wrap the Tree Trunks

Gardener wrapping apple tree trunk with a bandage
Photo: Lux pictura / Adobe Stock

New, young, and sick trees are the most vulnerable to damage from winter storms. Wrapping their trunks can protect them in several ways. First, it helps insulate them from freezing cold temperatures. It also prevents rodents and deer from chewing or rubbing against the tree bark, which often happens in cold weather. Lastly, it cuts down on “sunscald,” where bark splits from exposure to higher temperatures immediately followed by freezing temperatures.

Wrap your trees after the year’s first hard freeze. Begin at the base, overlapping the wrap as you work your way up each tree. Stop at the first structural branch and use tape to secure the ends. Once the ground warms up in early spring, remove the wrap. Otherwise, you can trap too much moisture, leading to mold.

5. Fill in Cracked Soil

Look out for cracks in the planting holes of new trees. If you see any, fill them with soil to help keep freezing air from penetrating and damaging their roots. That way, your healthy new tree will get through the winter unscathed.

6. Add Extra Mulch

Laying mulch around a young tree
Photo: ronstik / Adobe Stock

To prepare for winter weather, give newly planted trees some TLC. To help nourish them and keep their roots warm, add an extra layer of mulch to the soil around them. First, put down a mat barrier (like a tree circle), which will help keep pests from infesting their roots. Then, pile three or four inches of shredded wood mulch on top, covering their roots.

7. Water Your Trees

During a dry fall, water your trees before the ground freezes. Since moist soil holds more heat than dry soil, this will help protect their roots from freezing temperatures. For best post-winter results, ensure the water reaches the root zone, which is about 12 to 18 inches deep in the soil.

8. Be Gentle With Snow-Covered Trees

After a snowstorm, gently brush snow off low branches before it freezes. However, avoid shaking snow- or ice-covered limbs, which can cause them to break. Never try to remove ice from branches; instead, wait for the ice to melt before checking trees for damage.

9. Plant Hardwood Trees

If you’re investing in new landscaping prior to winter, go for hardwoods, like oak and maple trees. In contrast, Bradford pear, red maple, birch, elm, evergreen, poplar, and cottonwood trees tend to be more vulnerable to winter storms. Ask your landscaper to plant trees away from your cars, home, and other structures.

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