How to Protect Trees in the Winter

Two people putting dirt around the base of a tree

While you're making that checklist for the holidays, better add something else. It's time to prepare your landscape for winter. We're not just talking about hauling away the last of the leaves and moving plants indoors. Winter-prep also includes protecting your trees from the cold and sunburn. Yes, trees can get a sunburn. Fortunately, prevention is simple.


A close-up of what a sunscalded tree looks like

People need to lather on the sunscreen to prevent sunburn and skin cancer. Even though trees are sturdy, newly planted and young trees also need protection from direct sunlight. You can avoid sunscald by wrapping them. Arborists at Michigan State University say sunscald happens on cold, sunny, winter days. It occurs when there's a sudden change in the temperature of the tree bark. The sunlight stimulates growth. The temperature of the bark drops rapidly when clouds block the sun, or when the sun goes behind a barrier. That quick drop in temperature confuses the tree and can kill active tissue. The tissue can also suffer damage when the temperature drops below freezing, leading to sunscald. It's usually apparent on the exposed bark on the southwest part of the tree.

Varieties of trees most susceptible to sunscald are those with thinner bark. They include:

  • Maple
  • Linden birch
  • Walnut
  • Fruit trees
  • Aspen
  • Ash
  • Willow

Saplings, new and young trees should also be wrapped before winter. Sunscald will stunt a tree's growth and affect the amount of fruit you yield from your apple and pear trees. Another bonus of wrapping your tree is it prevents rodents from gnawing on them in the winter. Trees with thicker skin can usually survive the winter with a layer of mulch surrounding, but not touching, the trunk.

Wrap the Tree

Person bend down wearing winter gloves getting ready to wrap a small tree sappling with snow on the ground

You can prevent damage to your trees by taking action now. Wrap the trunks with protective tree wrap. Tree wraps come in a variety of materials, including paper, burlap, fabric, and cardboard. You can find the wrap at your local Do it Best hardware store.

How to Wrap the Tree

Wrapping the tree trunk is simple. Begin at the base of the trunk and pull the strip upwards, wrapping and overlapping as you go. The wrap should fit snugly around the trunk, but not too tightly, or you risk preventing air-flow to the bark. Secure the end of the wrap to the tape itself and not the tree trunk. You can also tuck the end of the wrap underneath itself and pull it out.

Tree wrap should not remain on a tree year-round. Leaving the wrap on when temperatures start to rise gives insects a place to breed and invites pest damage. The rule of thumb is to wrap your tree by Thanksgiving and remove the wrapping by Easter.

Winters can be brutal to landscapes, but if you protect your trees and remember to water young trees in the fall and winter, you should be able to prevent sunscald and have healthy trees come spring.

Article Author

David Phillips

David Phillips is a retired financial adviser and an avid do-it-yourselfer. He enjoys doing yard work, building furniture, and remodeling projects around his house. He recently built a new gazebo for the backyard.


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