Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter

By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Winter in Minnesota can be all over the board–snow, no snow, even rain, and above freezing temperatures.  Although it is still fall, homeowners need to have a plan and get ready to prepare their trees and shrubs for winter. Without proper winter care irreversible damage can be caused which ultimately may result in the loss of your tree or shrub.
Several issues can occur during the winter months including hardiness issues, where the tree or shrub can be killed or injured due to the cold temperatures. Plant selection is critical; knowing your growing zone, even microclimate areas in your yard is helpful.  Microclimates are areas of your yard that may be cooler or warmer due to protection from buildings, low ground or other reasons. Central Minnesota is on the breaking point between USDA growing zone 3 and 4 with Brainerd and Mille Lacs Lake areas being zone 3 and Little Falls and St. Cloud being zone 4.
Another common problem is sunscald which is common on young, thin-barked trees such as crabapple, maple, honey locust, linden, and plum.  Trunks with unprotected south or southwest exposure often have the winter sun penetrate the thin-bark, heating up the cambium layer of the trunk where fluids begin to move, these liquids then will refreeze causing expansion, just like water turning to ice, which cause permanent damage to active tissue.
Winter discoloration on evergreens occurs if evergreens do not have adequate moisture or protection. Winter winds and even the sun can cause desiccation or drying out and browning of the needles. Just like sunscald rapid change in temperatures can cause bleaching, injury, or even death on bright, sunny days.  Finally plants need the opportunity to harden off in the fall, which is the process of having new growth acclimate for change, if the conditions are not right new growth that hasn’t had a chance to harden off may be injured or even killed.
What can be done?
  • Continuing to water trees and shrubs until the ground freezes; this is particularly true for evergreens. Watering should slightly decrease in September to encourage hardening off but then water thoroughly through October until the ground freezes-up.
  • Put on protective wraps or guards. Tree wraps or protective guards can be put around the trunks of young, thin-barked plants; place them on once the ground freezes and remove in the spring.
  • Create burlap screen to protect evergreens. This should be placed on the south and southwest side of the plant.
hardiness zone
For more information or specific details about protecting trees and shrubs against winter damage visit

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