After a winter storm, trees often suffer damage. Treating them correctly will help them survive the winter and thrive in the spring. Here are some tips for minimizing storm damage:
Safety first. Don’t do anything after a storm until you are sure that any downed power lines have been taken care of by your local utility. Any large or hanging broken branches, or those high in a tree, should be taken care of by a certified arborist. Even if a tree has lost some major limbs, it may still be worth saving. An arborist can help you decide if your tree can recover.
- If you want to remove smaller broken tree branches, cut them back completely to where the damaged branch joins a larger branch or where it joins the trunk. (See our guide to pruning tools.) Be sure not to leave a stub that won’t heal and will invite decay. Never top a tree by cutting the main structural branches back to a stub as this will ruin the natural form of the tree and result in weak new growth that is likely to break off in future storms.
- Trees heal by forming scar tissue over their cut surfaces. Make sure you take off a broken branch without damaging the tissue of the trunk or branch it is attached to. Locate the branch bark ridge, a raised area on the upper surface where the branch meets the trunk or larger branch. Begin your cut just outside this ridge, angling it down to the outside of the branch collar, the bulge that forms at the base of the branch where it meets the trunk. Leaving the branch collar intact will help the cut close over more readily.
- Don’t seal pruning cuts – sealing cuts and wounds on trees doesn’t speed healing and can promote decay.
- If a broken branch has left an area of torn bark, trim back the ragged edges to leave a smooth border of healthy tissue. Shape the edges of the wound into a pointed oval to encourage healing.
- When you add more trees to your landscape, avoid fast-growing, weak-wooded trees as they are more susceptible to storm damage. Encourage young trees to develop strong branch angles on their major limbs and symmetrical branch placement that keeps the center of gravity over the trunk.
- Trying planting bulbs for indoor winter color, plant half now and half in a few weeks so that you can enjoy the show longer.
- Store your clay and ceramic containers in the garage before it freezes so they don’t crack. Remove crusted minerals from clay pots by soaking in water for several hours. Scrub with steel wool and dish soap if needed.
- Houseplants that spent the summer in a northern or eastern exposure may benefit from a move to a sunnier exposure during the dark days of winter. If you move plants closer to windows for better light, don’t place them so close that the foliage rests against the cold glass panes.
- Climbing roses should be securely tied to their supports to prevent wind damage.
- Cover perennial beds for winter with a thick layer of shredded leaves, bark mulch, evergreen boughs or seed-free straw after the ground freezes. This will prevent cycles of freeze and thaw between now and spring. Be cautious about using hay bales, as they are usually full of weed seeds.
- Replant any perennials that have been heaved out of the soil by frost and cover them with a light mulch.
- Spread any finished compost in garden beds. Keep turning your compost pile, moistening it if needed, to keep active decomposition going as long as possible before cold temperatures stop it. Consider setting up an enclosed composter near the back door so it’s easy to reach with kitchen scraps when there is snow on the ground.
- Check stored tubers, bulbs, potatoes, onions, and garlic for spoilage and softness.
- Winterize all power tools and sharpen, clean, and repair hand tools before storing them.
- Drain and store garden hoses and sprinklers. Turn the water to the outside faucets off before it freezes.
- Leaves contain a wide range of plant nutrients and using them as garden mulch will benefit next year’s vegetable crops. Remove any dead, diseased plants and weeds from the garden, and then pile whole or shredded leaves on debris-free soil. In spring, till them in where you’ll be planting and leave the rest for paths.
- Learn more ways to prep your garden for fall and winter.
Trees / Shrubs
- If rainfall has been light, deeply water trees and shrubs before the ground freezes. Going into winter with a well-hydrated root system will help these plants survive the winter in good shape.
- For “half-hardy” plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and butterfly bushes, surround them with a wire cage and cover them with a thick layer of dry leaves.
- To prevent insect pests and disease-causing organisms from overwintering, rake up and dispose of fallen fruits and leaves from under your fruit trees, as well as any shriveled fruits still clinging to branches.
- To protect hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, cover the crown of the plant about a foot deep with a loose mulch of wood chips or light-textured soil brought in from another part of the garden.
- If you are planning on buying a living Christmas tree to plant outside after the holidays are over, dig and prepare the planting hole now before the ground freezes. Place the soil from the hole in a nonfreezing garage or basement. Cover the hole with a board to keep out snow and to prevent someone stumbling in it by accident. Keep your tree inside for no more than 3- 5 days to prevent it from breaking dormancy, which would make it susceptible to cold injury when it goes back outside. When you’re ready to plant, water the root-ball of the tree well before placing it in the hole, cover with soil up to where the roots flare out at the base of the trunk, and water again.
- Apply a thick layer of mulch in a large area around trees, but do not allow the mulch to contact the trunks.
Lawn / Turf
- Keep mowing your lawn as long as the grass continues to grow, but gradually decrease the mowing height so that the final cut is at 1 1/2 inches. This will help keep the grass from becoming matted and developing snow mold over the winter. Avoid fertilizing late in the fall as it does not significantly help lawn grasses and contributes to pollution in our rivers and streams. If you need lime, it can be spread any time the soil is not frozen.