Winter Damage to Trees

winter damage to treesWinter weather can bring snow, ice, wind, and rain at any time to Indiana and the Midwest. When winter weather strikes, we often sit at home glued to our televisions with anticipation of what this storm will bring and how it will affect the various communities of the Indianapolis area. Besides school closings, grocery shortages, or road closures, winter weather may also cause winter damage to trees.  Even though trees, plants, and grass are dormant in the winter, they are still potentially vulnerable to weather damage. Trees are particularly susceptible to injury in the cold months, though the effects are often not obvious until spring.

Causes of Winter Damage to Trees

The low temperatures, frost, ice, and dry air of the winter months can take a toll on some trees.  Trees and plants that are exposed to the stresses of harsh winter weather may be damaged or weakened, and some may even struggle to survive.  Common winter weather events, including fluctuating temperatures, rapid temperature drops, and low soil moisture, that are known to cause winter tree damage are detailed below.

Low or Fluctuating Temperatures

When temperatures drop below a plant’s natural tolerance, trees and plants can sustain damage.  Trees or plants that are on the edge of their hardiness zone may not be able to withstand those record-cold days. Temperature fluctuations can also cause problems, such as frost cracks, which result from a sharp drop in temperature.  Frost cracks are vertical cracks that form in the bark of a tree.  They occur more often on the sun-facing side of the tree due to the greater variance between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Sunscald is a similar injury which causes an area of damaged bark resulting from warming of that area by the sun.  Often frost cracks and sunscald only cause superficial damage.  In these cases the tree or plant will recover, though the injury itself may be permanent. If you are unsure about specific damage, Ping’s is always available to help you assess the health of your trees.

Warm Weather Followed by Frost

Did you know that trees can get frostbite?  Frost forms when humidity in the air combines with near- or below-freezing temperatures. This can be problematic if a tree or plant is actively growing or producing. Frostbite shows up on trees or plants as brown or black flowers, buds, leaves, or fruit. New leaves and shoots will often twist, curl, or wilt in frost conditions.  The most common time for a tree or plant to be frostbitten is late winter or early spring.  When warmer weather causes plants to emerge from dormancy, they are vulnerable to damage from frost.  Rarely, this may also happen in an unseasonably warm winter.

The Weight of Ice Build-Up

During the winter months, trees are dormant and brittle. If a winter storm brings ice, it may cause winter damage to trees. When this happens, don’t try and remove the ice from your trees. Doing so may cause more damage to the tree. Pruning in the fall (or even in the winter) helps reduce the risk of injury due to a storm. After an ice storm, there are a few things you can look at to see if a tree service professional is needed:

  • Was the tree healthy prior to the storm?
  • Has any portion of the crown been lost?
  • Are there any broken limbs or branches?
  • Are there any cracks in the wood?
  • Is the tree leaning?

If any of these conditions exist, the certified arborists from Ping’s Tree Service can evaluate your trees and help assess the damage from ice on a tree.

Winter Dryness in Evergreens

For the same reason our lips and skin feel dry and chapped in the winter, trees and plants can struggle to find moisture as well. Lower moisture content in the air and soil create a very dry winter environment. Evergreens are particularly vulnerable to damage from winter dryness.  This condition, called winterburn, creates browning of evergreen needles.  In severe cases, the plant may not recover.  Application of an anti-desiccant to evergreen trees through the winter can protect against winterburn.

When you work with Ping’s Tree Service, you’ll find that we take specific, proven steps to keep your trees healthy year-round. A Ping’s certified specialist will recommend plants that are naturally hardy to our communities and help you manage any trees or shrubs that are particularly susceptible. Some steps you can take to prevent winter damage to trees include:

  • Planting trees and shrubs in well-drained soil conditions
  • Using mulch and checking soil moisture in advance of freezing conditions
  • Using wind breaks to prevent damaging or drying conditions
  • Utilizing a customized Ping’s Tree Service plan to provide the right nutrient content, protection, and water to your landscaping.

Whether in the numbing cold or the blistering heat, Ping’s understands the science of tree care and knows what your trees need.  Call Ping’s Tree Service today at 317-298-8482 to see what we can do to keep your trees healthy and growing.