Icy temperatures and snow are both characteristics of a typical Midwest winter. The winter season also affects our trees in a variety of ways. The susceptibility of a tree depends on a number of factors, including tree species and location in the landscape. The severity of weather extremes during the dormant period is also a major factor in tree injury.

Warm, winter days are a welcome surprise for many people, but trees don’t have the same reaction. Warm days giving way to freezing temperatures causes stress on dormant trees. The change in temperature makes the tree more susceptible to failure. A sudden snow or ice storm not only confuses drivers, it also distresses trees and shrubs. Heavy snows, especially after mild temperatures, can cause severe tree limb failure. This is mainly due to the heavy weight placed on the branches. Dormant trees are more hardened and less susceptible to failure, than trees that have not completely acclimated to the winter season.

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Fir tree exhibiting drought damage

The drought we experienced this summer and the dry fall season will also affect the possibility of winter tree injury. Dehydrated trees are much more likely to suffer from problems such as foliage and twig dieback. In addition, dehydration can play a part in other winter injuries that occur. For example, winter burn on Evergreens and tree root damage. During dry periods, it’s important to water trees and shrubs until the ground is completely frozen.


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Frost Crack



Trees that receive exposure on the south or southwest side of a landscape experience their own set of winter damage issues. Frost cracks and sunscald occur mainly on a tree that has more sun exposure on one side of the tree. Frost cracks appear on the trunk of a tree due to night and day temperature fluctuations. The south or southwest side of a tree receives more direct sun and experiences more dramatic temperature changes. This is also the side of a tree more likely to develop sunscald. Sunscald more often appears on thin-barked trees, such as Maples, Lindens and Willow trees. Initially, the tree bark will darken and become rough. Eventually this area will crack and fall off and the trunk will appear sunken. Severe exposure will cause stem dieback and stunted growth.

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Salts that are commonly used in winter for de-icing streets and pavements also affect susceptible trees and shrubs. Symptoms of salt damage become evident the following spring and summer. Foliage browning and branch die-back are characteristics of salt damage. Trees and shrubs planted in poorly draining soil are most susceptible to salt damage. Choose plant species that have a high tolerance for salt in areas that receive exposure or Kramer Tree Specialists offers a spray that protects susceptible plants from salt exposure and other winter hazards. Click here for more information on our anti-transpirant spray.

Mice, deer, rabbits and squirrels are also responsible for some winter tree damage. This is mainly due to their feeding and nesting. Gnawed branches, stripped bark and clipped twigs are examples of tree damage caused by an animal. There are a variety of methods for deterring an animal from chewing on a tree. Click here for more information on preventing animal tree damage.  

Following some simple plant care practices can go a long way in winter injury prevention. 


Contact KTS for more information on solutions to winter tree injuries. Our Certified Arborists can propose treatments, along with damage clean up.

Leave a comment with your personal winter tree challenges!

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