How to Care for Trees in Winter

Storms, ice and rapid temperature fluctuations can take their toll on trees in Central Texas. Sure, we may not get a lot of ice, but recently we’ve had a cold snap and we’re not even out of December yet. Exposed and isolated trees on your landscape can face certain stressors during the winter that you may not even be aware of. Don’t despair! There are things you can do to help your trees survive the winter and flourish come spring.


There are a variety of cold stresses a tree can face. One of the main ones is the rapid change in temperature from day to night. The temperature variations can lead to stresses within the tree between the outer bark and the inner wood. These could cause frost cracks. Usually, you can’t do much to prevent frost cracking. In many cases, the tree can repair itself even though the area remains vulnerable. Subsequent cracking in the same place can cause major damage so be careful. In the case of young trees and tropicals, you might want to wrap the tree as part of your maintenance procedure.

Early Frosts & Late Growth

Late season tree growth is vulnerable because it has less time to establish itself than earlier seasonal growth. It just doesn’t have the same timeframe to prepare itself for the cold than earlier growth does. Sometimes, ice crystals can rupture cell walls on new branches, leading them to die off in the following season. The best way to avoid this is to stop pruning until the tree goes into dormancy in the fall. Pruning too soon can encourage new growth and increase your risk of frost damage. You will also want to avoid fertilizers with high amounts of quick-release Nitrogen. Yes, your trees can benefit from fall fertilization, but it’s best to know which ones to avoid.

Winter Drought

Sometimes, drying out can be a real problem, especially if there is not a lot of precipitation. In Central Texas, we usually have some wet stuff in the winter, but it’s important to keep your trees from losing more water than they can absorb from the frozen or cold ground. A frozen ground but a sun-warmed tree can be a problem as can windy conditions. There’s no sure-fire solution to winter drought. However, if you lay down a layer of thick, organic mulch around the tree in late fall or early winter, you can help slow down moisture loss and runoff. The mulch also acts as a temperature buffer for the roots.

Branches Breaking

Your tree’s branches are more susceptible to breakage during the winter. This is especially true for deciduous trees. The wood will harden and becomes just a tinge more brittle and vulnerable to wind damage. The key to eliminating branches from breaking lies in good fall maintenance such as pruning. Pruning weak and vulnerable branches can make the entire tree less likely to face this issue. For small trees, you could consider covering them with a sturdy tent-like house of some sort. For bigger trees, you may want to use a rope to tie up and reinforce the branches.

Winter Checklist

  1. It’s best to use trees that are native to your region. This will reduce the overall stress on the tree during the colder months.
  2. You should maintain good tree upkeep throughout the year. Strong and healthy trees will always have it easier than those that are not well cared for.
  3. It’s proper to prone only after a tree has gone into its dormancy. Your certified arborist at Austin Tree Service can help you determine when that is.
  4. You can apply a good fall fertilizer that promotes root, not branch, growth.
  5. Lay down a layer of mulch around the base of your trees to keep them safe from the vicissitudes or temperature and moisture. Don’t forget to leave a space between the mulch and the trunk. This will discourage rodents for making your trees a home in the winter.

If you have any questions or concerns about this topic, please feel free to visit our website at or call us at 512-341-8888.