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Winter Tree Tips

February 1, 2018

After another hot summer, we are now facing winter storms. The precipitation is certainly welcome to our region, but harsh storms can damage our trees. Many trees stressed by recent drought have decaying or dead branches that could fall during a windy storm.

How can we protect our trees and ourselves during the stormy months? Now is the time to examine your trees and prune if needed! Take a walk outside and really inspect your forest. Look for broken, dead, or diseased branches that could be a hazard and need to be removed. Excessive amounts of fungal growth on a branch could also be a sign of decay. Or, you might have entire dead trees that need to come out for safety. Strong, well-maintained trees should weather the season just fine.

Many younger trees you can prune yourself. Check out our free, downloadable Pruning Guide on our website to get started. Or, even better, attend one of our free Pruning Workshops led by a certified arborist to gain knowledge and practice skills for pruning your young shade trees at home. See a list of the dates and locations on our website and register now to reserve your spot.

Smaller cuts on smaller trees can be done by you, but be safe -- if you can’t reach the branch by standing on the ground, hire a certified arborist to do it! Do not attempt to prune from a ladder. You can find a list of certified arborists in your area by searching www.treesaregood.org. Additional tips on how to can be found on our website.

Not only is winter an ideal time to prune for storm preparation, but it is also ideal because trees are dormant during the winter months and the bare branches make it easier to get the job done. First, establish your goals for pruning. Choose whether you would like to train a young tree to grow strong and have a healthy structure; remove potential hazards in anticipation of winter storms; removing parasitic mistletoe; or provide clearance from a building. A couple of key points: do not remove any more than 25% of the tree’s live branches in any one year, and make your pruning cuts just outside the branch bark collar to allow the tree to heal the wound naturally. More details on pruning – like the importance of choosing and establishing a single, central trunk –can be found on our website at www.sactree.com/prune.

Pruning is not the only wintertime task your trees will appreciate. Mulching is valuable all year round, and in winter the best benefit of wood chip mulch is reducing weeds that pop up after the rains. Remove weeds from around the base of your trees then add a layer of wood chip mulch on top of the soil like a blanket. Make sure the mulch is at least 4 feet in diameter around your tree, 4 inches away from the trunk, and 6 inches deep. Free wood chips are available to pick up at SMUD, or you can contact a local tree company. Another option is to sign up on a website that helps match tree companies with people in need a mulch delivery: try Chip Drop or Chipero.

Protecting the base of the trunk and the root crown during the rainy season also helps your trees. If you built a berm around your young tree to focus deep watering on the root ball, remove the berm or break a hole in it for the wet winter months. Or, if needed, dig a trench to drain water away from the trunk. Do not let water pool around the base of the tree for extended periods of time because it can harm the tree (this is the same reason you want to keep the layer of wood chip mulch 4 inches away and not piled against the trunk).

It may not seem like there is a lot to do during this time of year because the leaves may have fallen and your tree may be bare and dormant, but it is actually a wonderful opportunity to provide some needed care.