How To Wrap Trees For Winter

Many trees wrapped for winter

Wrapping the trunk of your trees when they go dormant protects the bark from damage or possible splitting. Most tree growers know that maintaining the tree’s health in winter is crucial to ensure they’re all set for a successful growing season.

A tree wrap is a huge part of essential tree care in winter. Young trees are susceptible to girdling animals that dig holes up in a snug spot among your trees.

Besides, extreme cold can be stressful on trees, especially on saplings not yet able to establish a rooting system like mature trees.


How Do You Wrap A Tree For Winter?

Tree wraps can be a burlap blanket, corrugated cardboard, paper, and many other materials tree growers use to protect their plants from the extreme cold of winter.

Wrapping young trees in winter may prevent frost cracks and bark damage, especially on cold-sensitive trees like citrus.

And it is the fluctuating winter temperature and low-angle sunlight that triggers the rupture and cracks among the trunk.

However, installing the wraps before winter arrives will prevent the possibility of cracks and sunscald. But make sure to remove the wraps when the temperature gets warmer.

  • Check trees before winter sets in

Before winter settles in, check the plants, especially newly planted tender young trees. And ensure the branches or trunk aren’t pinching or girdling.

  • Start at the bottom part of the trunk

Start wrapping from the bottom part of the tree trunk. And depending on your preference, there are common materials you can easily find for this purpose.

Materials commonly used as tree wraps as stated above include polypropylene fabric, paper, corrugated cardboard, blanket, and burlap.

  • The wrap should be snug, but not too tight for the tree to handle

As you work your way up wrapping the tree, remember to overlap the wrap materials by about one-third as you move up the tree. Also, ensure a comfortable wrap by not making it too tight and girdling the tree.

  • Secure the wrap either with a staple or small tack

Once the wrap covers the tree trunk down to the bottom part, secure the top with tape or small tacks. Avoid using materials like twine, tape, and wire ties that can cause fatal girdling.


 Common Causes of Winter Frost Damage to Shrubs and Trees

Determining the severity of winter damage includes a lot of factors. These factors include the plant species, cultivar, location, and conditions under which the plant grows.

1) Fluctuation of Temperature

Frost damage in winter is not only because of the extreme cold. The constant fluctuation of temperature also causes severe injury compared to a prolonged cold weather, particularly during the dormant period.

2) Unacclimated to Temperature
Ice damage to young tree causes significant browning of foliage.
Image by: missouribotanicalgarden.org

Acclimation to temperatures below freezing can help prevent severe frost damage. Plants that are not acclimated are susceptible to stress and injury due to sudden hard freeze.

The rapid drop in temperature following mild autumn weather can cause significant injury to shrubs and trees.

In addition, an extended period of mild winter weather can de-acclimate plants, making the trees vulnerable again to injury when the temperature drops rapidly.

3) Stress Due to Low Temperature

The temperatures that drop suddenly below a minimum tolerance level can cause a few cultivar’s stress and injury. And plants that usually suffer winter injury are those already weakened by previous stress due to low temperature.

And flower buds are often the most susceptible to stress due to low temperatures. However, species with marginal hardiness such as rhododendron, holly, and some magnolias may likely survive several mild winters before a typical winter causes injury.

4) Frost Cracks
Frost cracks in the bark of a young, tender tree
Image by: canr.msu.edu

Radial shakes, also known as frost cracks, usually appear from shallow to deep longitudinal cracks in the trunk of trees at temperatures below 15°F.

You will find cracks often on the south or southwest sides of trees. This is the part of the tree often hit by extreme temperature fluctuations.

A sudden drop in temperature can cause the outer layer of the trunk to contract more rapidly. And it is the rapid contraction that causes the long vertical crack at weak points of the bark.

Once the tree experiences frost cracks, it will probably appear annually. And trees such as Norway and red maple, oak, London plane, crabapple, linden, walnut, horse chestnut, and willow are most susceptible to frost cracks.

5) Sunscald
Visible damage due to sunscald in a tree trunk.
Image by: missouribotanicalgarden.org

Sunscald is a damage condition that can possibly occur at any time of the year, but the damage caused by extreme weather fluctuation in the winter is often the most severe.

It is an elongated canker often found on the south or southwest side of trees on thin-barked trees following a sudden exposure to direct sun.

When the temperatures on the sun-side of the trunk exceed air temperatures of 20°F in winter, it triggers the de-acclimation of trunk tissue.

The bark will gradually darken, turn reddish-brown, become rough, and eventually, callus tissue cracks and falls away after some time.

Affected areas usually have sparse foliage, stem dieback, and stunted growth. And sometimes only the outermost layer gets damaged.

6) Root Injury
Damage root tissues of a young tree due to winter injury.
Image by: farmwest.com

Root tissues do not become dormant in the winter as quickly as stems, branches, and buds. They do not acclimate to temperatures below freezing and may likely suffer an injury with the soil temperature below 15°F.

This usually happens to shallow-rooted plants. But mulch or leaf litter help insulate the soil, preventing the temperature from falling below freezing. However, plants with frozen roots may wilt and decline when warm temperature resumes in spring.

7) Winter Burn
Browning of needles due to winter burn in evergreen shrubs.
Image by: extension.unh.edu

When you find your evergreen tree with browning or scorched leaves in the late winter, it is a sign of winter injury.

Winter burn is typical to broad-leaved evergreens such as boxwood and rhododendron, and many narrow-leaved evergreens like juniper, pine, hemlock, and yew.

Loss of water through leaf transpiration is the usual cause of winter burn. In winter, roots are frozen and unable to replenish water loss when the sun and winds dry the needles.

Besides, when the temperature of a warm sunny day drops suddenly, it causes significant injury to the tree.

8) Spring Freezes

In winter, plants are adjusting to adapt and acclimate to the prolonged cold weather. But when the spring growth starts, the late spring frost can de-acclimate and cause damage to new shoots, blossoms, and even the woody stems.

Trees and shrubs have varied responses in spring freeze. It depends on the plant species, location, or the temperature and duration of the temperatures at which the plant grows.

Mostly, the plant’s bloom will likely show browning of petals or an entire blossom drop. And other susceptible plants will indicate wilted leaves, black spots on leaves, or dieback of the twigs.

Aside from trees and shrubs, spring freeze is also dangerous to small plants. It can also cause damage to the succulent new growth tissue, making it saggy and having it wither quickly.

The symptoms resemble blight diseases, but it appears suddenly after a hard frost. Bacterial fire blight, pine tip blight, and juniper blight show progressive signs over time.

9) Animal Damage
Three brown deer with two feeding on an evergreen shrub while the other is sitting next to a tree trunk.
Image by: fdlreporter.com

Mice, deer, and rabbits are also trying their best to survive when food is scarce in winter. Damage usually occurs when rabbits and deer feed on the bark, twigs, and stems of the tree while mice feed on the ground surface.

Wrapping the trunk is the most effective way to deter the girdling mice or rabbits. This will prevent rabbits and mice from reaching the tree trunk or branches.

10) Heavy Snow and Hail Storms
 The branch of a young tree splits into three because of the heavy snow.
Image by: cbc.ca

The extreme weight of heavy snow and hail storms can also cause damage to your trees by bending and breaking branches. And evergreen trees like junipers, arborvitae, and yews are the most susceptible to damage.

To protect branches from the possibility of breakage, prune and eliminate weak branches with larger trees, while wrapping the trunk of the tree when it is tender.

You can also tie branches together loosely by using strips of cloth or coated twine when the tree is mature enough to resist the extreme cold of winter.


When To Remove Tree Wraps

Tender young tree with spiral vinyl wraps in winter and the damage it caused when not removed in the spring.
Image by: treepans.com

Growing trees in winter require bark wrapping. This protects the young saplings from cracks and sunscalds due to constant weather fluctuation. And doing so is especially important when the bark of tender trees is smooth and thin.

However, do not leave the wrap around the trunk year-round. Remove the wrap as spring comes to avoid the possibility of constriction and indentations.

Tree wraps installed correctly and removed at the right time can eliminate various tree issues and allow the young tender tree to grow healthy.

Yes, tree guards are efficient protection you can use to prevent some plant’s injury in winter. But keep in mind to remove each spring to avoid the possibility of further damage.

Removal of winter wraps protection also allows the trunk to breathe and get optimum sunlight exposure.

Leaving the wrap in close contact with the tree generates pressure on the tree trunk. And the neglected wraps with prolonged contact can choke and girdle the tree, causing more damage and stunted growth.

As the tree reaches maturity, it becomes less susceptible to frost injury. The bark becomes thicker with raised ridges. And older trees are less likely to need the wraps in winter.

But some tree species like maples and lindens have thinner bark even as they reach maturity. These types of plants benefit from wrapping as winter comes.

Tree wraps left on the trunk even in spring can cause bark, excessive moisture. And moist bark loses hardiness. It encourages fungal diseases and pests, which threatens the health of your tree.

Overall, tree wraps are beneficial and best applied in the fall from November until March and removed as the spring comes in April.


Types of Tree Wraps

Tree growers use wraps to protect plants from frost damage and the girdling of animals in winter.
However, winter wraps come in various types of materials and are beneficial depending on what purpose you have in mind.

And depending on your purpose, the ideal wraps should protect the tree with more coverage without choking and should guarantee optimum benefits.

Burlap
Young evergreen trees in the park wrapped with burlap for winter protection.
Image by: bobvila.com

Burlap is one of the most common materials tree growers use to protect saplings from frost and the extreme cold of winter.

It is efficient against winter burn caused by winter sunlight and loss of soil moisture. Burlap is one of the less expensive plant covers that allow plants to breathe with sufficient air circulation.

Vinyl Spiral Guards
Tree grower wrapping a tender-bark tree with white spiral vinyl winter protection.
Image by: familyhandyman.com

A vinyl tree guard has a reusable texture protecting the wraps from the invasion of animals like voles, deer, and rabbits. Also, this material is easy to wrap around the trunks of small trees.

Cloth Fabric Plant Covers

Cloth fabric plant covers like bed sheets and comforters are ideal for covering large plants and shrubs. It allows moisture to vaporize while protecting the young tree from frost. Plus, it prevents winter air from getting direct contact with the plants while catching the heat emitting from the ground.

Paper Tree Wraps
Tree grower wrapping a smooth-bark tree with paper roll winter protection.
Image by: lowes.com

A paper tree wrap is a non-toxic material you can use to wrap and help your tender tree enjoy protection in winter.

Paper wraps made of sturdy materials are resistant to sunscald and frosty weather. The wrap is also lightweight and breathable.

Plastic Tree Trunk Protector
Grey plastic tree protector encircling a tree trunk.
Image by: caseytrees.org

Some tree growers use plastic protector as the second layer of protection. When using either fabric cloth or paper rolls to protect plants from freezing, they usually add plastic trunk protectors as another layer of protection.

This is to ensure the tree is of optimum defense from the danger of winter. A plastic tree trunk protector is another layer of protection you can use to protect young trees from the girdling of animals in winter.

And most plastic tree trunk protectors have slotted designs to allow young trees to enjoy adequate aeration. It provides a high level of protection to tender young trees prone to animal invasion.

Fabric Plant Bandage

Tree wraps in red fabric with white polka dots.

Fabric plant bandage made of soft woven cloth is ideal for insulating tree trunks in the fall.

The material holds up firmly during wet seasons and provides comprehensive coverage from the bottom to the top without constricting your plant’s growth.

Besides, this material is easy to use. And it is sturdy enough to prevent voles from damaging young trees.


Final Thoughts

The threat of frost injury to your young and tender trees is high with the constant fluctuation of temperature in winter. And providing protective wraps to these young trees will keep them from the danger of the cold winter.

Tree wraps are materials used to protect plants from the elevated cold and from animal girdling in winter. However, protection from frost injury is not the only thing you have to consider when using tree wraps.

It should provide comprehensive coverage without constricting the plant’s growth. And the materials used should be breathable to avoid fungal infection due to prolonged and excessive bark moisture conditions.

While adding protection to the tree will ensure safety from the danger of frost, it is also important to remove the wraps when the temperature gets warmer in the spring.

Removal of wraps will ensure your plants can receive adequate amounts of light and prevent harmful heat build-up once the weather is warm.

If you have any questions on how to wrap your trees for the winter successfully, then comment below.

 

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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