Protecting young trees from the onset of winter

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

All trees, even those that are the most hardy, are sometimes susceptible to injury from cold temperatures. One way to prevent damage to these plantings, particularly around the house, is to establish them on the lee side, where there is more shelter from the house. This breaks the strong winds that come from the west and north.

Another way is to mulch the roots heavily with hay, straw, leaves, or shredded bark. Mulch also eliminates weed and grass competition. Mulches are particularly good around shallow roots, since they prevent the ground from freezing.

Winter damage is often caused when the soil freezes around the roots and the tree simply runs of moisture. New plantings and dwarf trees are especially vulnerable.

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Also, if the sun is especially warm during a winter day, the dropping temperatures at night can split the bark of a tree. If this happens, paint the bark immediately with tree tar compound.

Heavy snow can damage limbs and break the tneder boughs of fruit trees and bushes. Pruning them so they develop a strong branch structure is most helpful. By cutting back any branches that are growing too far away from the main trunk will make the tree sturdier. Even where snow doesn't drift, it is good to rim the lower branches of both trees and bushes, because breakage from setting snow is worse on the bottom branched of a tree.

Berry bushes, on the other hand, don't need any special pruning to see them through the winter.

As for pruning any branches that have fallen victim during the winter, simply smooth the breaks with a hand pruner. Any large cuts or breaks should wait till spring. Then you can saw off the broken branch back to the trunk and paint it. If large limbs have split and torn pieces of wood from the trunk, smooth the tears with a knife, saw, rasp, or chisel and fill the cavity with a tree sealer.

Another protection for your trees is to ensure that they are fed in the late fall, since the potassium helps provide them with resistance to the cold weather ahead.

For many years property owners have draped burlap or plastic sheets on the sides of the trees and bushes that are most liable to come under particularly strong winter winds. In recent years, a plastic spray, obtainable at garden supply shops, has given the same protection as burlap and plastic.

A hardened film coating on the branches and needles serves as an invisible windbreaker and seals in moisture. The coating melts and evaporates when warm weather arrives.

Another measure that may ensure a strng root structure during the winter is to place well-roted animal manure above the entire root zone of small trees, shrubs, and trees which have shallow roots.

Is it necessary to water a tree in the winter? Many trees, particularly evergreens and shrubs, may be in serious danger and could possibly die because they d not get enough water during the cold winter months.

Quite often, property owners will blame the freezing weather for their losses. They may not realize that the loss, or near-loss, is due to the lack of water. Actually, the cold winds in winter cause the evaporation of the water content of branches, leaves, and needles. Trouble results when the roots cannot find sufficient the browning, dying foliage that you may see in the spring. Thus, the importance of watering, even in the wintertime.

If, despite all your care and protection, a tree is partly or wholly uprooted , often it can be saved by prompt action.

Cover the exposed roots immediately to keep them from drying out until you can make arrangements to restore the tree to its upright position, cut away shattered roots, and dress the wound with antiseptic asphalt paint.

If you cannot put the tree back by hand, try block and tackle, winch, dragline, jacks, or even a bulldozer.

Protect bark with padding where pressure is applied. Install guy wires to hold it in place until the root system regenerates. Use three or more guy wires , the more the better.

Place the wires high enough -- about two-thirds of the way to the top of the tree if the trunk is strong enough to withstand the pressure of the wires in strong winds.

Remove the wires in a year or two.

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