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Winter Damaged Tree Care Tips

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: Winter Damaged Tree Care Tips
When you live in New England, winter tree damage on your property is a high probability. From extreme temperature fluctuations to breakage under the weight of snow and/or ice, tree damage is caused by many different factors. And while it’s impossible to prevent all damage from occurring in the first place, there are several things you can do to minimize the risks. Before we look at how to repair existing damage, it’s important to understand the most common causes of winter tree injuries.

From the Bottom Up: How Winter Affects Your Trees

Harsh winters are characterized by substantial snowfall, strong winds, and ice storms and each of these factors take a hefty toll on the health and safety of your arbors. Their ability to withstand several months of Mother Nature’s cold wrath depends on their overall health prior to the fall of the first snowflake. Strong trees are better equipped to handle excessive precipitation and powerful wind gusts, but the following conditions can wreak havoc on even the strongest of the bunch.

Excessive Temperature Fluctuations

Trees and plants all require a process of acclimation to falling temperatures—and the slower the better. Unfortunately, sudden drops aren’t uncommon, and when they occur, it causes a great deal of stress and injury. Winters that have one week of heavy snow followed by a long stretch of sunny, 50-degree days are particularly stressful on trees. That’s because trees start acclimating to warmer temperatures and become susceptible to another hard freeze episode before winter’s end. Damage from this sharp fluctuation in temperatures presents itself in frost cracks. Frost cracks appear as deep, vertical cracks in the bark of tree trunks. This is caused by the outer layer of wood contracting at a faster rate than the inner layer. Once a frost crack has appeared, it acts as a point of entry through which wood-decaying elements such as insect infestations, bacteria, and fungi have easy access. The tree species that are most often affected by frost cracks include oaks, pines, poplars, red maple, crabapple, and willow.

Evergreen Winterburn

Browning of the needle tips of evergreens is visible at the end of winter and beginning of spring. Species such as hemlock, boxwood, juniper, pine, and yew are those most commonly affected by this unsightly damage. The cause is too much water lost through the needles. That’s because winter winds and sun cause water reserves in the needles to evaporate while most of the water available to the tree remains frozen in the roots and stems.

You can reduce the risk of winterburn by applying two coats of an antidesicant (also called anti-transpirant) to the needles—one in December, and another in February. This helps to protect susceptible leaves from losing crucial moisture.

One last note about Rhododendrons. While winterburn is common, there is no need worry (or cut them back) if the foliage is burnt. Once the damaged foliage falls off, the new growth should be fine.

Root Damage

If soil temperatures dip below 15ºF, root tissues become highly susceptible to injury, or even fatality in the case of species with shallow roots. The good news is that snow cover acts as a natural blanket that helps to prevent the soil from reaching dangerously low temperatures, however it is still wise to apply mulch around trees before the start of winter for added protection.

Breakage from Snow and Ice

Heavy snowfalls and ice storms are the two factors that have the greatest injurious power to trees. Each year they cause varying levels of damage—whether by bending or breaking limbs, or even toppling fully-grown arbors. Evergreens are at the highest risk, though hardwood species like birch and maples can easily fall prey to damage from snow and ice. This type of damage generally causes limbs at the top of the tree to split or break off during storms marked by strong wind gusts. According to the Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation (SPIA) Index, which is a tool used for predicting tree damage in an ice storm, all it takes to cause excessive damage resulting in numerous power outages that could last from 1-3 days, is the combination of 1/4”-1/2” of ice and 25-35 mile per hour winds. The weight of ice is a major stressor to all trees, and after they’ve been damaged, they might need pruning, or support from cables and bracing so that they can continue to withstand future winter seasons.

How to Assess and Repair Winter Tree Damage

It is critical for both the health of your trees, and the safety of your property, to regularly check for signs of tree damage. Doing so can save you from costly repairs later on. When it comes to tree care, Benjamin Franklin’s famous words, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” are as fitting as they are true.

The extent of damage to a tree caused by winter storms is not always clear or obvious, as most of it occurs at the top. The best way to gauge tree damage on your property is to hire an ISA Certified Arborist from a reputable company that specializes in professional tree services. Arborists are trained not only to assess tree damage, but also to determine the best path forward when it comes to repairing and maintaining their health.

At Lucas Tree, we know storm-damaged trees. After major winter storms, our crews are always at the forefront of the extensive clean-up effort. They work long hours, alongside Central Maine Power to safely remove fallen trees and limbs that have caused widespread power outages. We take every precaution to ensure that this dangerous job is handled with the utmost care and attention to detail and we pride ourselves in our commitment to safety. Our professional residential tree service team will assess any trees on your property that you are concerned about, and determine the extent of the damage. If the tree sustained moderate damage, but is overall structurally sound, we have the tools to bring it back to optimal health. If the damage is too great, tree removal is the best way to eliminate the safety concerns it creates for you and your property.

No matter what problem your trees are experiencing, Lucas Tree has the answer and the solution. Connect with Lucas Tree Experts today!


Ice Storm Data Base and Ice Severity Maps.” Coder, Kim D., Dr. Atmospheric Research46.1-2 (1998): 159-68. Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources. The University of Georgia