How To Winterize Your Fruit Trees


Come wintertime, you’ll need to do something about your fruit trees to make sure they don’t freeze.

Tips for winterizing your fruit trees include cleaning up all the dead fruit and leaves from the ground, applying mulch or woodchips to the base of the tree, not pruning your tree in late fall, protecting the base of the tree from sun scorch, performing deep watering of the trees, and covering the branches with a winter cover.

Read on to find out reasons why you should prepare your fruit trees for winter.

Why prepare your fruit trees for the winter

There are many reasons you should prepare your fruit trees for the winter

  • Sun scalding

If you don’t take the necessary precautions for the winter weather, your tree could suffer from something called sun scorch.

This can happen in the summer, but it is also likely to happen in the winter as well.

You see, during the winter, we as humans can suffer from something called sun blindness.

This happens when the sun shines off of the white surface of the snow and comes right into our eyes.

This overexposure to the sun makes it so we can see for a few days.

Something to the same effect happens to trees when they are out in the winter.

The sun will beat off of the snow and cause the tree to get more sun than it usually does.

According to Utah State University:

Sunscald or southwest injury refers to damage incurred though the killing of active cells within the trunk and limbs of sensitive trees during winter months. Young trees with thin bark are most susceptible to sunscald injury. The injury occurs when exposed bark on the tree warms up on sunny days and previously dormant cells within the plant become active in response to the warmth. Research has shown that the south side of a tree can be as much as 77°F warmer on a cold winter day than the north side of the tree. The newly activated cells lose some of their cold-hardiness and are injured when temperatures drop below freezing during the nighttime hours. Resulting damage includes discoloration and cracking of the bark. The portions of trunks and branches facing south and southwest warm the most because they get the most direct sun and because they get sun later in the day when air temperatures are warmest.

https://forestry.usu.edu/news/utah-forest-facts/sunscald-injury-or-southwest-winter-injury-on-deciduous-trees

So your tree can suffer major injury just because it received too much sun during the winter season.

It then becomes important to make sure you prepare your trees for the winter.

  • Frost cracking

Something else that can happen from the sun during the winter is frost cracking.

As mentioned above, when a tree gets hot and then quickly gets cold from the winter night, this can cause the tree to crack.

And then these cracks can other diseases and pests to get into the tree.

So it is important to take care of the tree for winter so you don’t get frost cracking.

  • Dead roots

If you don’t keep your tree protected, then this could lead to dead roots.

Roots are the lifeblood of the tree.

They take the water and nutrients from the ground and feed them into the tree so it can keep living.

But if you don’t do enough to cover the roots and keep them warm, then the roots could end up dying, which would then lead to the tree dying as well.

Clean up all the dead fruit and leaves from the ground

The first thing you are going to want to do is clear out any of the dead fruit or fallen leaves from around your fruit tree.

This may seem like a very little thing, but it is actually very important to the growth of your tree.

First, the dead fruit is going to invite pests that you might not want around your tree.

For starters, the dead fruit could invite bugs to your tree.

They will start off on the fruit and from there, they will probably move over to your tree.

So what started off as just some bugs eating your dead fruit could and probably will lead to them eating away at your tree.

If you start by cleaning up the dead fruit, then the bugs will probably stay away from your tree.

Second, having piles of dead leaves on the ground put small hiding places around the yard for critters.

Under a pile of leaves would be the perfect place for a mouse or rat to hang out until nobody is around or a place to stay warm.

And you don’t want these critters to stay warm around your tree.

Because next thing you know, they are going to be going to town on the bark and branches of your trees.

So it is better that you clean up the dead leaves so animals don’t have a place to hide in your hard during the wintertime.

Apply mulch or woodchips to the base of the tree

The base and roots of the tree are the most important parts of the tree.

Without the roots, the rest of the tree can’t get the nutrients and moisture it needs from the ground, especially during the cold wintertime when there isn’t much rain, but there is a lot of snow.

The base is important because it protects important parts of the tree that keep it alive.

So both of these need to be taken care of so that during the wintertime, the tree can continue to thrive even though it has gone into dormancy (sleep for plants).

Mulch and woodchips are both great options to apply to the base of the tree.

Both are excellent at keeping in heat and drawing in moisture.

Mulch is great because you can store up your garden waste and leaves during the summer and fall and then apply it to your trees.

This means you aren’t paying for your tree coverage.

But you also have to be careful that you are putting into your mulch.

Make sure you are keeping any weeds or diseased plants out of your mulch.

If these items are found, it could mean the death of your tree.

Woodchips are an excellent source for coverage as well.

If you have a woodchipper, you could use this to cut up any trees in your yard, and then you can create your own woodchips.

You can also purchase woodchips at your local hardware store for relatively cheap.

Woodchips are great to keep the moisture around and also for keeping the base and roots of your tree warm.

Apply the mulch and woodchips to the base of the tree and try to apply at least 6 inches of mulch.

Anything less than 6 inches is probably not enough and anything more might be overkill.

Also, make sure there is some space in between the trunk of the tree and your mulch/woodchips.

This makes it so the tree has space to breathe.

Don’t prune your tree in late fall

According to BathGardenCenter.com:

Fall weather makes people crave cleaning up their landscapes. But before you start hacking at your shrubs, heed our general advice: DON’T PRUNE ANYTHING DURING THE FALL. Nothing. Put your pruners away for another month or two and let plants go completely dormant. Why??

Pruning encourages new growth just when the plant is trying to go dormant. New growth won’t have time to harden off before freezing temperatures come along.

When you prune in the fall wounds won’t heal as quickly, leaving the plant more susceptible to fungal diseases.

Waiting until after all the leaves have fallen allows you to see the tree/shrubs structure better.

https://www.bathgardencenter.com/post/why-you-shouldn-t-prune-in-fall

You might think that pruning your trees right before winter will be a great way to start clean for spring.

And this might be a good thought at first, but in actuality, this could do a lot more to hurt your fruit trees.

When you prune your tree, it encourages your trees to grow more.

But if you do this during the fall, the tree isn’t going to have enough time to replace what you just pruned before the winter comes.

This leaves your tree more susceptible to diseases and other things that could hurt your trees.

So if you are going to prune, do it during the spring or summer when the trees are going to have plenty of time to grow what is missing.

Once all the leaves have fallen off of the trees, you can prune your tree.

But it is better left for come late winter/early spring.

Protect the base of the tree from sun scorch

Protecting the base of the tree from sun scorch is very important.

If you don’t protect the tree, then the tree could end up cracking, which causes additional damage to the tree.

There are a few ways to do this.

The first way is mixing latex paint and water and then painting the base of the tree with this mixture.

To do this, mix equal parts of water with equal parts of interior latex paint.

Then apply the mixture to the tree at least 18 inches above the ground.

Remember to not do this to trees that are younger than 2 years old.

A second option is a vinyl tree guard, which you can find here.

This tree guard will wrap around your tree and because of the white color of the guard, it will repel the sunlight away from the tree.

Unlike the paint, though, the vinyl tree guard will also keep small animals from trying to eat the fruit tree.

Perform deep watering of the trees

During the year, there are many different ways in which you can water your trees.

One way is called deep watering.

Deep watering means that you are setting up your hose right next to the tree and then you are letting it run for a few hours.

This gets the soil nice and wet for long periods of time.

Meaning you only have to water the trees every few weeks instead of a few times a week.

When you are about to come upon the winter, you are going to want to deep water at this time as well.

This will get the soil nice and moist right before winter, so there should be plenty of moisture in the ground for the wintertime.

Cover the branches with a winter cover

Depending on the size of tree you have, you have different options for covers.

For smaller trees, you can probably get a cover like this.

For larger trees, this cover might be good enough.

The covers keep the heat in the tree that it might give off during the wintertime and keep it around the tree.

It also protects it from any larger animals that might come by and think that the branches are a good source of food for them.

Summary

You can typically purchase fruit trees for relatively cheap at a nursery or your local hardware store.

But the thing you really need is time.

It takes a few years for your fruit trees to get to a place where they will actually start giving you fruit on a yearly basis.

So protecting your fruit trees becomes even more important if you want your fruit trees to come back year after year and still give you the fruit that you want.

And this means that you need to take some steps before winter to make sure the fruit trees are protected and they are set up to survive the cold winter weather.

So make sure to clean up any dead leaves or rotten fruit on the ground, apply mulch or woodchips to the base of the tree so the roots stay warm, don’t prune your tree in the fall, protect the base of the tree from sunscald by using a latex paint and water mixture or a white tree cover, perform deep watering so the trees have the water they need for winter, and put covers on your branches to protect them from animals that might want to use the branches as a snack.

Take care of your fruit trees using the above and you will continue to have fruit year in and year out.

Bill Lantz

Bill Lantz is a database analyst by day and a weekend warrior by... weekend. He's currently building up his own miniature homestead in Central Utah with his wife and six kids. Some of his interests include knowing random trivia about films, reading history books, and playing video games with the boys.

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