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Over the past few years, we have seen unprecedented changes in the weather across the United States and the world. We have had “once in a lifetime” winter storms this year that have impacted just about every state and, in 2023, severe weather is a guarantee. Weather shifts can range from unexpected frosts in the late spring or early fall to unexpectedly warm weather during this period that can get trees growing before all chance of frost has passed.

While your local weather forecasts can help you keep an eye on potential frosts, don’t depend on them entirely. Instead, look for natural clues like a clear night that might mean lower temperatures. Also, know the difference between a frost and a light freeze. A light freeze means the temperature will drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. A frost, however, can even occur in temperatures as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit if there is enough moisture in the air.

It’s critical you think about how to protect your trees in advance of a frost event. So, be sure you have your strategy in place and ready to implement before it is needed.

 Why It’s Critical to Protect Your Trees from Frost Damage

Frost can severely damage buds and limbs. If tree tissue is damaged, it may shrivel, turn brown or even blacken. Growth that is damaged typically grows limp and eventually drops off. Frost damage can impact the overall growth and health of the tree and impair its ability to bounce back from disease. Frost cracks can penetrate tree wood, making it more susceptible to insect damage and allowing fungi to take hold.

For an unprotected tree, frost damage can impair its overall vigor, reduce any fruits or buds and even shorten its lifespan.

Which Trees Are Most at Risk from Frost Damage?

Of course, certain tree varieties — specifically those that are tropical or subtropical — will be most at risk for damage from frost. However, even typical cold-weather trees such as Ponderosa and Austrian pines can sustain frost damage.

Overall, newly planted trees and ones experiencing stress will suffer more damage than their healthier, more robust counterparts. Tree stress can be caused by:

  • Improper planting.
  • Over- or under-watering.
  • Soil compaction.
  • Pollution exposure.
  • Root disturbance.
  • Insects and pests.
  • Temperature fluctuations.

Even improper pruning can stress a tree to the point that it becomes susceptible to frost or freeze damage.

What You Can Do Before (and After) Frost

Fortunately, you can protect your trees from frost with these strategies:

  • Keep soil moist so that it holds heat longer to deter frost penetration.
  • Cover tree roots with 3-4 inches of shredded wood mulch as insulation, keeping mulch at least 6 inches from the tree trunk.
  • Use sheets or lightweight fabric to cover small trees and trap heat from the earth. Avoid plastic, however, as leaves might freeze when they come in contact with it.
  • Use burlap or whitewash to protect the trunks of young or tender trees.

What you do after a frost may be as important as what you do before. After every frost:

  • Remove any covering, as temperature can build quickly and cause heat damage.
  • Water thoroughly after the freeze has passed.
  • Remove heavy snow on limbs.
  • Prune broken branches that are still hanging.

Trees that have minor damage may heal on their own, so it is best to hold off on pruning non-broken limbs or other damage until spring.

How an Arborist Can Help You Keep Your Trees Protected

Consulting with a certified arborist has many benefits for your landscape, especially when it comes to winterizing your trees. First, an arborist will know what trees are most cold-hardy and can help you develop a winter-proof landscape that will be robust and resilient in the face of frosts and freezing temperatures.

Whether the trees in your landscape are newly planted or mature, an arborist can provide services like proper pruning, fertilizing, mulching, and more that will keep your trees healthier and reduce the impact of stress, allowing them to weather winter storms better. Finally, if your trees experience any frost damage, your arborist will be able to provide the right services at the right time to minimize damage and tree loss.

 Turn to Townsend Arborcare to Help Keep Your Trees Winterproof

At Townsend Arborcare, we have all the services you need for a healthy, resilient landscape. Our experts can help ensure your trees are as healthy as possible as we move through all the climate changes a year can bring. We can provide proper pruning and canopy support to help relieve tree stress, as well as post-storm management services to remove dangerous limbs — or entire trees, where necessary.

 Be prepared for unexpected winter weather this year. Just contact a Townsend Arborcare consultant today to discover how our team of arborists can keep your trees healthier this winter.