Winter’s heavy snow and ice, as well as frozen soil
conditions, can damage cherished trees and shrubs in suburban
landscapes. Even areas without major snowfall experience high winds
and huge fluctuations in temperatures during winter. But homeowners
can lessen the adverse effects of winter weather with preventive
What can happen in winter, and how you can
“Branches of trees can break due to the excessive
weight of ice or snow,” says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist with
the Tree Care Industry Association. “Proper pruning encourages the
formation of the strongest possible branches and branch
attachments. When pruning alone isn’t enough, properly installed
cables and rigid braces can add support to a weakened part of the
Winter winds cause evergreens to lose moisture from
their needles. Even some deciduous trees suffer from winter drying.
If water is not available as moisture is drawn from living cells,
permanent damage will result. The best prevention consists of
planting only hardy species in areas of prolonged exposure,
watering plants adequately in the fall, and mulching to insulate
the soil and roots from severe cold.
On sunny days in winter, the tree’s trunk and main
limbs can warm to 15 degrees higher than the air temperature. As
soon as the sun’s rays stop reaching the stem, its temperature
plummets, causing injury or permanent damage to the bark. The two
main types of injury are known as sun scald and frost cracking. The
effects of sun scald and frost cracking can be reduced by sound
arboricultural practices to maintain overall health, and also by
covering the trunks of young, susceptible trees with a suitable
Winter is a good time to prune
“Most skilled arborists prefer pruning when trees are
dormant,” says Andersen. “With no leaves on the tree, the arborist
is better able to evaluate its architecture and spot dead or
diseased branches. In addition, since the ground is frozen damage
to the turf underneath the tree due to falling limbs and tire
tracks is negligible. This is also a good time to check trees for
diseases and other damage.”
Here are some other ways the Tree Care Industry
Association recommends to improve the health of your living
Aeration around trees helps improve water and air
movement in the soil. This strengthens the tree’s root system and
reduces soil compaction.
When planting, choose hardy trees available in your
area as they have better chances for survival in severe weather
conditions. Choosing the best location and following proper
planting procedures should be your highest priorities.
Stop fertilizing trees in early fall to allow them to
prepare for winter.
In case of moderate storm damage, restoring the tree
to its former health and beauty may take some time, but it
generally can make a full recovery. Broken, hazardous limbs should
be removed immediately. Pruning to remove broken stubs and restore
the balance of the crown can be put off a little while, but
shouldn’t be delayed more than one growing season.
Hire a Tree Care Professional
The best advice is to hire a tree care professional
with the experience, expertise and equipment to safely take down or
prune damaged trees.
Require proof of liability insurance and check to see
if the cost of the work is covered by your insurance company.
Contact the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a public and
professional resource on trees and arboriculture since 1938.
It has more than 2,000 member companies who recognize
stringent safety and performance standards and who are required to
carry liability insurance.
TCIA has the nation’s only accreditation program that
helps consumers find tree care companies that have been inspected
and accredited based on: adherence to industry standards for
quality and safety; maintenance of trained, professional staff; and
dedication to ethics and quality in business practices.
An easy way to find a tree care service provider in
your area is to use the “Locate Your Local TCIA Member Companies”
You can use this service by calling 1-800-733-2622 or
by doing a ZIP Code search on www.treecaretips.org.