News release: Protect trees from winter and wildlife

December 14, 2023

Taking proactive measures now can help young yard trees survive winter weather conditions and hungry wildlife, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Yard trees provide countless benefits to our environment and our well-being. They help clean our air, reduce our electric bills and enhance our surroundings, to name a few,” said Nikki Henger, the DNR’s Forestry Division outreach specialist. “Supporting our yard trees during the winter months will help set the stage for them to thrive in the summer.”

Here are five things people can do to help care for trees in winter:

  1. Mulch and water. Add a 3-inch layer of mulch that is at least 3 inches away from the trunk and about 3 feet in diameter. Water trees regularly until the ground freezes.
  2. Tidy up around the trees. Wildlife such as rabbits and rodents browse on trees and shrubs as a regular part of their diet. Minimize this risk by removing places where wildlife might nest, such as tall grasses, brush piles, tarps or water bags, directly around trees.
  3. Wrap young trees. Tree wraps or plastic guards help protect against rabbits, rodents and sunscald. Newly planted trees should be wrapped for at least two winters, while thin-barked species should be wrapped for at least five winters. Sunscald occurs when the sun heats up the trunk, followed by quick freezing at night, leading to cracking bark. Be sure to remove the tree guards in late spring.
  4. Add fencing. Effective barriers can be wire fencing, hardware cloth or poultry netting. Bury fencing 2 to 3 inches below ground and extend it about 2 feet above the anticipated snow line to create a more critter-proof barrier. Periodically check fenced areas to ensure wildlife is not trapped inside. If deer are frequent visitors in a large yard or wooded area, consider installing a 10-foot woven wire fence to reduce damage. Bud capping is also commonly used to shield white pine seedlings from deer browse. Fold a 4”x6” piece of paper in half and staple it around the top leader of the tree this time of year until it grows out of reach to deer.
  5. This is a great time to get in touch with a certified arborist about pruning. There is lower risk of disease transmissions, like oak wilt, in winter. It is also easier to visualize the tree branching structure without leaves.

Yard trees need a little attention all year-round and provide a great reason to get outside in December! Following these winter tree care steps will give trees some extra protection during winter to start strong in the spring growing season. To learn more on residential tree care, the DNR’s tree care webpage.

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