The Whillow Whisper – February

Six Winter Chores for Healthier Spring Trees

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The tree-filled landscapes of winter can be mistakenly thought to be asleep. Wintering trees are not sleeping; they are simply still, counting the days until spring. Only then will it be apparent whether the tree has saved enough resources to respond to the new season of growth.

Winter is a difficult time for trees that must stand alone against all circumstances that the season can generate. Trees have some internal methods of protection. Most of the growing points in the tree are protected inside jackets called buds, and food reserves are carefully conserved for the coming needs of spring. Also, water continues to move through the tree until it freezes. However, these protective stages may breed other problems. For example, creatures needing a meal chew and nibble on the resting buds and twigs.

What can you do to help your valuable trees? A few things can help a tree be more efficient and effective in surviving the winter and thriving in spring. These small winter investments can pay off in a large way, yielding healthy and structurally sound trees.

The “Critical Six” things to do for your tree this winter are:

Add a thin layer of composted organic mulch to blanket the soil surface. Mulch protects and conserves tree resources and recycles valuable materials.
Properly wrap new trees that have not developed a corky bark and could easily be damaged. Mechanical injury from the environment, including chewing and rubbing by animals, must be prevented.
Remove or correct clearly visible structural faults and deadwood. Try to make small pruning cuts that minimize the exposure of the central heartwood core on branches.
Perform limited greenwood pruning of declining and poorly placed branches. Pruning should conserve as many living branches as possible, with only a few selective cuts.
Fertilize with elements needed in small quantities. Essential elements added over a mulch layer will help provide a healthy soil environment for root growth.
Water where soils and trees are cool but not frozen and where there has been little precipitation. Winter droughts need treatment with waters the same as summer droughts. However, it is easy to overwater in winter, so be careful.


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