Prevent Winter Tree Damage in Toronto: Tips & Solutions

As residents of the Toronto area, it should come as no surprise that winter can be harsh and unpredictable. While the many bitter months can be challenging for us, the unpredictability of the winter months can be particularly hard on trees. That is why it is essential to know the types of issues trees face in winter and take proactive steps to prevent winter tree damage from happening.

Winter Related Issues

For trees, it is not necessarily the cold temperatures that do the worst damage. The ever-changing conditions of winter wreak the most havoc on our treasured trees. Recognizing the possibility of damage is essential in preventing it and maintaining healthy, vibrant trees. Here is a list of some of the most common winter-related issues:

  • Sunscald

Abrupt exposure to heat or sun in winter can cause sunscald, which is essentially a large canker sore on the bark of a tree. Young trees are especially susceptible to sunscalds as their bark is less resilient than mature trees. You may recognize the bark on your tree starts to change colour or texture or even notice the formation of cracks in the bark. While cracks and other trunk damage can occur from different sources, if the damage is more concentrated on the south-facing sides of the trunk, it indicates sunscald.

  • Winter Root Damage

The roots of trees do not typically go dormant as quickly as other parts above ground. This makes them more vulnerable to dramatic changes in the weather. If the roots are shallow or if there are cracks in the soil, the roots are more likely to be exposed to the elements and become damaged. Root damage is generally apparent in spring, when you might notice significant dieback (or no growth).

  • Salt Exposure

Salt exposure can severely damage evergreens, especially White Pines. Vehicles passing by or snowplows clearing the streets may spray or splash road salt onto trees in your yard. You likely will not notice any damage until spring, when the needles begin turning brown and possibly falling off. If the soil around your trees has poor drainage, the root system may also be at risk of salt exposure.

  • Animals/Pests

Food tends to be scarce for animals in the winter months. Deer, mice, and other rodents love to snack on the tender shoots and bark of trees. If left unprotected, these pesky critters can cause irreparable damage to your shrubs and trees.

  • Trunk Cracks

Fluctuating temperatures and midwinter thaws can be particularly detrimental to the bark on tree trunks. If you remember from elementary science class, water expands when it freezes. Different layers of wood in the trunk contain various amounts of water. As you can imagine, dramatic shifts in temperature mean repeated expansion and contracting of the wood layers – thus, trunk cracks occur.

  • Winterburn

Harsh, dry winds paired with exposure to winter sun rays can cause Winterburn on conifer needles and evergreen foliage. You will notice branch tips and needles start to turn brown. Dramatic decreases in temperatures can exacerbate Winterburn, as well.

  • Damaged Branches Due to Heavy Snow, Ice & Winter Storms

As we have mentioned, winter weather can be incredibly unpredictable. From periods of heavy snowfall to severe ice storms and unrelenting wind, it’s miraculous that any tree survives the winter. Thankfully, trees are pretty resilient! For the most part, healthy trees bend with the wind and weight of the snow. However, sometimes, trees will crack or snap under additional pressure.

Preventative Measures

Being proactive and putting some preventative measures in place is the best way to mitigate tree damage in the freezing-cold winter months. With this list of practical tips and tricks, you can help maintain healthier, more beautiful trees straight through to spring.

  1. Stop fertilizing trees at least six weeks before the first fall frost is expected. The new growth caused by fertilizing your trees needs adequate time to mature and harden off before the cold temperatures hit.
  2. Cover newly planted trees with a good layer of mulch and fill any cracks/breaks in the surrounding soil to prevent cold air or ice from reaching the roots and causing irreparable damage. Mulch can also protect shallow roots from salt damage.
  3. Place protective barriers around trees to prevent damage from animals and other pests.
  4. Paint the southern side of tree trunks with dilute white (or light-coloured) interior latex paint to protect against sunscald and prevent frost cracks in the bark. Trunks can also be wrapped in paper tree wrap.
  5. Protect conifer trees from salt damage by wrapping them in burlap or shrub wrap.
  6. When heavy snow accumulates on branches, you can gently brush it off to alleviate the strain. However, do not try to remove ice buildup, as you will likely do more harm than good.
  7. Inspecting trees once their foliage has fallen for cracked or otherwise damaged limbs and branches is a good idea. These trees may need some extra care to prevent additional damage from occurring (to the tree, your property, or even yourself).
  8. Consider installing a bracing and cabling system for structurally compromised trees to help them withstand the extra weight of winter.

Time to Call the Professionals?

While trees generally survive winter fine alone, many things can go wrong without proper care and attention. Tree care and maintenance can feel overwhelming if you do not have any experience. This is where the help of professional arborists comes in. Sometimes, a quick consultation is all you need to confirm if you are on the right track or not… and sometimes, things are a little more severe than that.

Local arborists always offer complimentary consultations on Toronto’s tree care services. Our friendly team has many years of experience dealing with winter tree care. For questions about setting your trees up for the best success throughout the coldest months and preventing winter tree damage, call Local Arborist today.