How To Identify & Treat Winter Kill

How To Identify & Treat Winter Kill

Are your evergreens starting to look a little brown in some areas? After an intense winter with sporadic temperatures, it’s likely that these trees are feeling the results of winter kill; a condition in which the tree technically burns due to a lack of moisture in the ground and air. But there’s no need to worry, AborScape has you covered. Here, you’ll learn how to identify winter kill in your trees, and how to treat it.

Like our skin dries out in the winter, so do trees. Especially with how close to the sun we are here in Denver. The only issue is that they don’t have sunscreen or chapstick to lock in moisture to protect them the way we do. This is why you’ll see a lot of dried-out trees in the area. While the dried leaves on the evergreen may make it seem like it just needs an extra dose of watering, there’s a bit more to it. The desiccation of trees – or the loss of moisture – can happen with fluctuating temperatures, much like we experienced this winter, and can lead to the freeze-drying of the tree’s tissue.

Despite various evergreen species being native to Colorado, we know that our soil here can be pretty dry and nutrient-deficient, meaning sometimes these trees need an extra boost of help to make it through the season.

Signs of Winter Kill

evergreen with winter kill

This is why a common symptom of winter kill is seeing the tree’s pine needles turning a brownish-red color, which is the number one sign of desiccation. While it’s fairly common for trees to lose moisture during the winter months, the freezing temperatures can make it tricky for the trees to reabsorb the moisture through a frozen ground. So, even though there may not technically be a drought, your trees certainly think there is.

This combination of inadequate soil moisture can lead to root decay and poor function. If not treated, the damage of desiccation and winter kill may continue to spread throughout the tree during its active season and can cause intense stress to the tree, which leaves it prone to insects and disease. Leaving your tree in this state can cause an even further onslaught of issues that may require even further treatment other than just a bit of tree trimming to clean it up and make it look nice.

Beyond making your tree appear unattractive, this combination of drought and winter kill on your trees can cause significant damage to the tree’s root system. If not treated properly, the damage can continue to grow well into the growing season and last for years. If you’ve noticed this on any of your trees, don’t fret. Understanding potential risks can help guide you toward the next step.

There are a few tips and tricks to conserve your evergreens on your own. For instance, you can water your evergreens monthly in the absence of rain or snowfall, or you can add more mulch in late autumn to conserve soil moisture, and even planting in certain areas of your yard can be beneficial. 

Treating Winter Kill

You’ll notice those desiccated leaves we talked about earlier sprouting only in certain areas, this is because they’re facing windward, meaning they dry out much quicker than other branches and buds. Even further, winter kill usually affects current-year needles the hardest, as they’re the youngest and don’t have the protection older needles do. Planting in areas that protect your evergreen from this wind and covering it up during the frigid months can be a huge help in maintaining your tree’s overall health.

But if it’s a little too late for all that, there are other ways to help out your tree now. In most cases, it’ll just take a bit of time and effort to get your tree back up to your standards. Being patient and waiting for the dead needles to drop and waiting for new growth development is usually the best course of action. 

However, in some extreme cases, ArborScape can come out to trim away the dead branches. Just know that these limbs don’t necessarily need to be removed unless the buds have died as well. You can tell by the feel of the branch if it is or not; if the buds on a branch feel spongey and appear green, there is still life in them, so there’s no need for removal. But if the buds are brown and brittle, extra treatment may be required.

Here at ArborScape, we know there’s a lot to consider when it comes to the trees in your yard, but we’re more than happy to help with any questions or concerns you may have. Give us a call or check out our website for more information on our services.

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