Preparing your trees for winter

Autumn Forest

It may not seem like it with the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing this fall, but winter is on its way. Are your trees and perennials prepared for the changes ahead?

Perennial shrubs and trees, especially conifers, should be watered generously until the soil freezes. Mulching trees will help reduce winter root damage.

Young maples and thin barked trees may benefit from some kind of sunscald protection to prevent the bark from cracking this winter and spring. This protection is usually in the form of a plastic tube or tree wrap which is removed in spring. These practices can also help in reducing winter animal damage. Other fall management practices which will help reduce winter damage to trees and shrubs can be found at UMN Extension’s Yard and Garden site.

Protecting trees and shrubs from rabbits, mice, voles, and deer is a major concern in some landscapes during the winter. Mow or remove tall grass to reduce mice and vole damage. If the bark is removed or severely damaged around the tree, it will die. Protective physical barriers such as tree tubes, hardware cloth, or fencing can be utilized when practical.

Odor, taste and visual repellents can be used to repel many wildlife species, but may have inconsistent effectiveness. Human hair, soaps, garlic oil, hot sauce, and animal repellents can be applied to branches and foliage to discourage browsing. Weather, application frequency, animal population, and feeding pressure affect the success of repellents. Some animals become desensitized to the repellent, so you may want to alternate repellents. A web resource that reviews prevention and control of wildlife damage can be found at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

If you’re unsure what is causing problems in your landscape, Extension has a great web site to help homeowners diagnose tree, shrub and plant problems or identifying a weed or insect. This site also has links to the UM Plant Disease Clinic and Soil Testing Lab.

Fall is also a good time to plant trees (be sure to water until the soil freezes). Follow these links to find recommended trees for all regions of MinnesotaDutch Elm Disease resistant tree varieties, and edible fruit and nut trees or shrubs. The best time to prune trees is during the dormant season from January to March. Flowering shrubs can be pruned in the summer after flowering.

Gary Wyatt
Gary Wyatt is an Extension educator with a focus on agroforestry and bio-energy. Gary works with federal and state agency partners in promoting conservation and agroforestry practices in rural landscapes. Other topics of expertise include invasive species, tree selection, living snow fences, nontimber forest products, riparian buffers, windbreaks and ecosystem services. Gary is based at the Mankato Regional Office.

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  1. The instructions for fertilizer spikes (for both conifers and deciduous trees) say you can put them in in the fall or the spring. In the past I have put them in in the spring. I checked online for instructions or guidance and it was suggested that they should not be put in until after the first hard frost. Considering our first frost will be late this week does it mean that after that is a good time to insert the spikes? Also, is the fall a better time for fertilization or should I just continue with the spring?

  2. Mike H.
    On all fertilizer products you should follow label directions. Late fall or early spring should be OK. Sounds like they are recommending that the spikes should be applied when the trees are dormant. Not much fertilizer will be absorbed from the roots till next spring. But fall applcation will offer possible early spring up take when the soil thaws and roots become active. I know the best time to fertilize lawns is in the fall (September – October) but the industry pushes spring applications. Environmental concerns are surface runoff and leaching to groundwater. Apply as directed with proper amounts. It is great you are caring for your landscape!