4 Potential Problems that Can Affect Your Trees in Winter

by Grace Motley

Many homeowners believe that because trees go dormant during the winter, they are safe from any significant threats to their survival. However, there are several ways climate-related conditions can seriously harm your trees. Trees that have sustained significant winter damage may have to be removed by a professional tree care service. Here are four dangers lurking in the winter months that can potentially destroy your trees.

Frost Cracking

Frost cracking happens when daytime and nighttime temperatures fluctuate substantially. As the wood expands and contracts as a result of air temperature changes, the bark may separate from the inner wood, causing cracks.

Frost cracking is also sometimes called "southwest injury" because this is the part of the tree that receives the most sunlight during the winter months, which means that it will experience a wider variation in temperature. Although most mature trees can repair themselves in time from frost cracking, some homeowners choose to wrap the bark of young trees in special tree blankets that can be purchased from home and garden retailers.


As food becomes scarce in winter, rodents may be attracted to your yard trees while foraging for food. Rabbits and mice will both chew on bark, and this can girdle the trees, eventually killing them. Wire mesh enclosures will keep rabbits out, but mice may be able to get past barrier methods and you may have to set out baited traps for them to protect your trees.

Branch Breakage

Branches are more likely to break during the winter months for several different reasons, including:

  • After trees go dormant for the winter, their wood hardens, therefore becoming more brittle and more prone to breakage.
  • Ice and snow can weigh branches down, causing them to break.

Good fall pruning can help prevent winter branch breakage from becoming a significant problem. Weak branches should be removed at this time, and if you have large evergreen trees where branches are vulnerable to breaking, a tree service can reinforce branches uses cables or strong ropes.

Winter Drought

Although drought generally isn't associated with winter, the roots of evergreen trees in cold-climate areas often don't receive adequate water. This occurs when the ground around the tree is frozen and is a particular problem during later winter when evergreens begin putting out new growth.

This problem can be somewhat alleviated by mulching the area around the base of the tree with a thick layer of organic material before the ground begins to freeze in the fall. This will help slow moisture loss from the ground and prevent runoff.

Winter drought is not a factor with deciduous trees because they generally stay dormant until the ground begins to thaw out in spring. However, they may need to be mulched for different reasons, included protecting their root systems from unusually cold temperatures. For tree services, talk to local companies such as Island Tree Service with more questions.