Protecting Young Trees in Winter

Many homeowners plant trees in the fall, after all, fall is for planting.  As the focus shifts from planting to raking leaves to getting ready to scoop snow off driveways, there’s a common tendency to forget about the new trees that were planted this fall or even in the past few years.  At least 3 areas of care should be given consideration:


Moisture – the goal for new trees going into winter is the same as it is in summer and early fall, which is moist soils, not soggy or dry ones.  The key difference is that a good soaking at this time of year will keep the roots hydrated and full of needed water for 4-5 times as long as in September.  Probing the soil with a piece of rebar or long screwdriver will help determine how moist the soil is next to the roots.


Grass and Weeds – Long grass and weed growth around the base of trees should be eliminated to reduce competition for water and nutrients.  At this time of year, it becomes even more important as they create a great hiding place for mice and other critters that feed on young tree bark.


Protect – Especially for thin barked trees such as maple, damage from sun, mice and rabbits can be severe.  The potential for injury can be greatly reduced by installing a length of PVC drain tile that is split vertically and wrapped around the trunk.  Painting the protector a light beige or white color will help to reflect the winter sun, limiting the chances of sunscald injury.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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