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.
- You can still plant spring blooming bulbs and divide fall blooming bulbs if you do it before the ground freezes.
- 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.
- If you prefer neat garden beds going into winter, you can cut back perennials after a hard freeze, but you may want to leave the foliage as they hold leaves and snow which gives your perennials extra protection in the winter. Replant any perennials that have been heaved out of the soil by frost and cover them with light mulch.
- Clip the seedpods from black-eyed Susans, columbine, perennial sunflower, and verbena and sow in various open spots. When they sprout next spring, you can transplant or leave where they are.
- 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 the soil. In spring, till the leaves in where you’ll be planting and leave the rest for paths.
- Rakes, shovels, spading forks, or any tools with wooden handles will benefit from a protective treatment of one part linseed oil and one part turpentine. Apply two coats evenly.
- 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.
- Don’t remove snow and ice from evergreens as your attempts to rescue them may do more harm than good.
- Don’t prune your boxwood, azaleas, and roses now. Pruning stimulates growth and new growth after pruning will be susceptible to winter freeze damage.
- 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.
- 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.
- Water evergreens, shrubs, and trees deeply every five weeks, unless there has been a lot of rain. Water when temperatures are over 45 degrees and early in the day to allow the moisture to soak in. South and west exposures and slopes need the most attention.
- Lightly toss some shredded leaves on the lawn. They will decompose through autumn and winter and microbes will break the leaves down into nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and micro-nutrients, which will feed the grass.
- Clean up and winterize the lawn mower for storage. Run the gas tank to empty or use an additive to keep moisture from contaminating the fuel.
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