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

avoid it

“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

tree wrap.


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