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Tree Care is Essential for Cold-Weather Months

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Tree Care Tips is Essential for Cold-Weather Months

CHAMPAIGN, IL- Many homeowners operate under the misconception that once winter weather arrives, they no longer need to care for outdoor plants. While you certainly won't be planting a row of zinnias when snow is falling, you should care for trees that could take a beating from Mother Nature's cold and icy wrath this time of year. Just as people battle the snow and wind, so do trees ... with one major exception: Trees can't hide inside to avoid exposure to the elements. Don't worry! There are a few steps you can take to ensure your trees will remain healthy throughout the winter, and bloom heartily when the warm weather resumes.

"While your trees seem to be in a state of hibernation in the winter, exposure to the tough conditions can cause them major stress," says Jim Skiera, executive director of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). "Minimize stress by helping your trees through the cold months, a little at a time. If you take care of your trees in the winter, you'll be rewarded in the spring.

ISA offers the following winter tree-care tips:

Rely on mulch. Put composted organic mulch under your tree in the fall or early winter to help retain water and reduce temperature extremes in the soil. A thin layer of mulch will act like a blanket and give the tree's roots a little extra protection.

Give your trees a drink. Winter droughts require watering as much as summer droughts. If temperatures permit, an occasional watering during the winter on young trees can be a lifesaver. But be sure to water when soil and trees are cool but not frozen.

Prevent mechanical injuries. Branch breakage or splitting can be caused by ice and snow accumulation, or chewing and rubbing by animals. Prevent problems with young trees by wrapping their base in a hard, plastic guard or a metal hardware cloth. Wrapping trees with burlap or plastic cloth also can prevent temperature damage. Just remember to remove the wraps and guards in the spring to prevent damage when the tree begins to grow. In addition, when plowing or shoveling snow, be mindful of trees nearby. Damage to limbs and trunks from plow blades or a sharp shovel can be detrimental to trees.

Prune your trees. Winter is a good time to prune your trees. Not only are trees dormant in the winter, but it is also easier to see a tree's structure when there are no leaves on the branches. "Proper pruning is vital to the health of trees and plants, in part because it helps relieve stress on trees and keeps them growing," says Skiera. "Just be aware that each tree is different, and pruning at the wrong time or the wrong way can injure a tree or make it susceptible

Pruning helps keep surrounding areas safe for people and objects by removing frail branches. But too much pruning can create more problems than it solves, Skiera added, advising homeowners to prune annually and lightly instead of all at once. When in doubt, consult a local ISA Certified Arborist for advice. Here are a few pointers:

  • Always have a purpose in mind before you cut. Removing dead or diseased wood, providing clearance, or improving shape and structure are most common.
  • Proper technique is essential. Poor pruning technique can cause long-term damage.Learn how to make proper cuts. Small cuts do less damage to a tree than large cuts. Unlike people's wounds that heal by themselves, tree wounds do not heal, they simply close. Smaller cuts close more quickly. Make cuts just outside the branch collar for quick-wound closure.
  • Avoid leaving stubs.
  • Keep tools sharp and clean.

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), headquartered in Champaign, Ill., is a nonprofit organization supporting tree care research and education around the world. As part of ISA's dedication to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees, it offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the industry. For more information, and to find a local ISA Certified Arborist, visit


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"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now."


Pruning Mature Trees Brochure

Proper Mulching TechniquesBrochure

Available through the ISA Web store

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P.O. Box 3129, Champaign, IL 61826
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