Winter Tree Maintenance 101

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fir tree winter close up

Trees help to define our outdoor spaces all year round. But, they are living things, susceptible to illness and damage. Here’s a list of the four most common winter tree afflictions, as well as an explanation of their warning signs, to help you recognize potential winter damage.


If you’re a gardening enthusiast, you probably dote on your trees, shrubs and gardens during the spring and summer months. But what about winter, when trees are most susceptible to serious injury? Some sources of winter tree damage might surprise you. Here’s a list of the four most common winter tree afflictions, as well as an explanation of their warning signs, to help you recognize potential damage and prevent further harm.

Watch out for these signs of damage:

#1 Sunscald

The active cells in tree bark are killed when they are exposed to direct sunlight and suddenly cut off from that source. When this happens, the bark becomes darker, turning a reddish or brown color. Rough, cracked or falling away bark can are also signs of sunscald.

#2 Frost cracks

When the temperature drops rapidly, the outer layer of a tree’s wood can contract quicker than the inner layer, resulting in frost cracks. These appear as long, vertical fractures on the trunk.

#3 Ice and snow breakage

The buildup of ice and snow on tree branches weighs them down. If the weight becomes too much, it causes branches to break off. Large amounts of ice and snow are visible, making it easy to determine when this is a threat. Drooping and newly low-hanging branches can also be signs. Be sure to knock heavy snow off of tree branches to prevent breakage.

#4 Winter burn

Winter wind and sun can dry out the leaves on some evergreen trees — and freezing water in the roots of a tree and the ground that surrounds it can make if difficult or impossible for the tree to hydrate. Check for scorched or browned leaves to determine whether winter burn damage has occurred.

Preventing Winter Damage

Winterizing your trees can help keep them healthy through tough winter conditions. However, because the type and severity of damage a tree may suffer depends on numerous factors — including tree species, climate and sun exposure — different trees may need to be winterized at different times. If you’re uncertain about how to proceed, you can call a tree service who will identify problems with your trees and handle them accordingly.

To winterize your trees, wrap their trunks with tree wraps or plastic tree guards — and regularly remove the ice and snow from your trees to prevent buildup. Pruning back dead and diseased branches and adding mulch around the base of your trees can help reduce the likelihood of winter damage as well.

While winterizing your trees will not undo previous damage, it can aid in preventing your trees from further danger. Keep a watchful eye on the forecast and freeze temperatures in your area, and take further steps to protect your trees if they begin to display any of these warning signs.

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Andrea Davis

Andrea Davis is based in Denver, Colorado as an editor for HomeAdvisor. As a deeply engrossed fan of the written word in its many forms, she’s always looking to tell home improvement stories in a new light that both engages and entertains. She's a frequent and very welcome content contributor here on the BuildDirect Blog.