Preparing trees and shrubs for winter

  From the October 15, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 Harsh winter weather can be deadly for trees and shrubs. Toso Bozic, bioenergy and agroforestry specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, explains how to prepare them for the season.

“As we enjoy the beauty of our trees and shrubs during the spring, summer and fall, we need to be mindful that Alberta’s harsh winter conditions can kill or deteriorate their vigor,” says Bozic. “We can’t prevent winter from arriving, but we can do a few things to prepare trees and shrubs to better survive it.”

Bozic says that choosing appropriate tree and shrub species is the first step, followed with proper tree planting and maintenance during the growing season.

“When winter does arrive, cold temperatures, wind, winter sun, frost, heavy snow, or freezing rain can greatly damage needles, buds, branches, bark, and even roots,” explains Bozic. “Heavy snow and ice can break branches or topple down a whole tree. Winter wind will create evergreen needle desiccation. As winter creates shortages of food for wildlife, various rodents, deer and moose will feed on branches and bark, and greatly damage trees. Even birds feeding on too many tree buds can create damage.”

Preparing trees and shrubs for winter:

Watering - “It is crucial to water trees as soon as deciduous trees lose their leaves and before the ground freezes,” says Bozic. “Evergreens don’t go to full dormancy and may use the water in winter. Water will freeze around the roots and will be the only water available to survive a possibly dry spring.”

Watering tips:

    • Water slowly and deep around the drip line - the outmost circumference of the tree canopy where water drips to the ground - and not close to the tree trunk.
    • With younger trees, water at the root ball.
    • One way to water is to make few small holes in 10 gallon bucket, fill it with water and stand it on the roots. You may also use drip irrigation or deep watering.
    • Whatever method you use, don’t let water run off quickly.
Mulching - Four to six inches of mulch helps keep moisture and prevents freezing of the roots. Don’t put much of the mulch next to the trunk. Instead, create a donut shape of mulch around the tree.

Removing leaves and dead vegetation - Dead leaves and understory vegetation are home for many insects and diseases during winter. Raking and removing dead leaves will reduce the potential of diseases and insects coming back next spring.

Pruning - "Pruning is usually recommended during the winter and spring here in Alberta with the exception of 3D (dead, diseased, and damaged) branches,” says Bozic. “Removing 3D branches will reduce the snow or ice weight on the whole tree and eliminate a potential host for many insects and diseases. You should also eliminate weak branch connections.”

Animals - Rodents, deer, and moose can greatly damage or kill trees and shrubs. “Protecting your trees is a long-term and frequently costly battle,” says Bozic. “For example, you can use wire mesh products, tree plastic tubes, various repellants or electrical wires to deter deer and moose.”

Salt - Salt used for deicing is one of the major killers of trees and shrubs in Alberta, as the run off damages roots, hinders growth and reduces foliage. The best solution is to eliminate use of salt, if possible, or plant trees and shrubs that can withstand salt damage.

“Every plant has its own mechanism to survive winter harshness,” adds Bozic. “I’m always amazed to see what our trees and shrubs survive here in Alberta. Making a few small changes can help them survive the winter and flourish again in spring as beautiful trees and shrubs.”

For more information, contact Toso Bozic at 780-415-2681.

Toso Bozic

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Toso Bozic.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on October 1, 2018.