Winter Tree Protection Tips (For When It’s Barely Winter Outside)

This season has been a winter catastrophe throughout the U.S., with the polar vortex bringing freezing temperatures all the way down to Florida and Mexico, covering the entire nation in ice and —

What’s that? It’s a toasty 50 degrees outside? Why, you must be living in sunny Oregon! (And for once, that phrase is not sarcastic.)

Here in the Northwest we’ve had a mild and easy, downright cozy winter with plenty of sunshine and not a whole lot of rain. But while that’s great for your own personal fresh air and vitamin D intake, it’s not exactly the best condition for your trees, orchards, and gardens.

During the winter, plants enter a state of senescence during which photosynthesis and upward growth slow down, while resources are dedicated to root growth and gathering nutrients for the spring. This dormant period lasts until the plant has experienced a certain number of hours in the cold; once this threshold has been reached, warmth and light will encourage the plant to produce new buds.

Currently, temperatures here in Oregon are falling right along the range where trees and shrubs are accumulating their necessary coldweather hours, but a slight increase in temperature over a period of days could trick the plants into shifting into springtime gear prematurely, leaving new buds vulnerable should another November-style freeze strike again. A surprise frost after a mild winter can stunt crops on orchard trees and reduce flower production on ornamental plants.

While there isn’t a lot you can do to safeguard your trees and plants against a sudden cold snap, there are a few steps you can take to help your landscape cope with an unwinterly winter.

First, remember that your trees need water at all times of the year, even through the winter. During these long stretches of warm and dry weather, be sure to take a moment to water your trees to prevent them from dehydrating. Take care not to overwater, however, especially if the soil has poor drainage. It is much easier to overwater in the winter than in the summer.

Also, if your trees are living on bare soil with no surrounding turf, spread a modest layer of mulch around the root zone to help insulate the roots against temperature extremes and retain soil moisture. Remember, the root zones of your trees spread as far out as the branches do, if not farther! So mulch generously.

Now is also a good time to get your trees in shape before the spring growing season begins, and to correct those lingering winter storm hazards. Give us a call to set up a free consultation and estimate for all your tree care needs. And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy the comfortable weather… and be thankful you live in the temperate Northwest!

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