treeice.jpg By Shermakaye Bass

Wintering comes naturally to most trees. After all, nature is their architect; they are “built” to endure, even thrive, in the most dramatic conditions.

But that’s not to say homeowners shouldn’t give their arboreal friends a little TLC during the colder months. Pete Smith, an urban arborist for the Texas State Forest Service, says most people tend to assume trees should be left to their own devices during the dormant period. Au contraire, he explains.

“When we’re out in our yards in the spring, we think, ‘What a lovely tree. I should do something to help it.’ But when it’s cold and we’re bundled up in our coats, getting into our cars in the morning, we’re thinking, ‘That tree is dormant. I don’t need to do anything’ – when, in fact, there is a lot we can do in winter, especially in Central Texas where I’m from, but just in general,” Smith says.

According to him and arborists Robert Smith from Lincoln, NE, and Don Leopold from Syracuse, NY, the major issues to address during cold months involve mulching, watering, pruning and protection from wind, frost, scalding sun and burrowing varmints.

In the South and Southwest, precipitation-free periods can cause dangerous dehydration, while in Northern climates, serious problems arise when winter storms hit early in the season, weighting still-leafy trees with snow and ice, potentially cracking or breaking limbs.

All three arborists agree that, typically speaking, mulching is the best way to nurture one’s trees in winter – whether to protect against freeze, retain moisture or simply to nourish the tree’s root system. Also, in most any region (and with most any species), dormancy is the best time to prune and even to plant new trees. In truly moderate or sub-tropical climates, you can plant or relocate trees well into January.

(And of course, as probably already know, planting trees is one of the best things you can do for the environment. A mature tree can absorb enough carbon dioxide out of the air to offset a few thousand miles of typical car emissions; not to mention it can also cool your house and add value to your property. Get more info on the positive impact of trees from Arbor Day.)

WATERING: When and How Much

No matter where you live, winter watering is a key issue. And knowing when and how (and if) is crucial.