One of the best investments you can make in your trees is taking the time to understand all seasons’ tree care. This will teach you how to keep them healthy all year long instead of their health declining during one or more of the four seasons.
From summer heat stress, proper pruning during the spring & fall growing seasons, to winter dormant care, year-round maintenance is crucial. Above all, year-round seasonal tree care takes time & understanding, but with Fielding Tree Care at your side, you’ll have great trees in every season.
Since we are a Colorado company, we’ve also compiled seasonal tree care information specifically for our state that you can read here. That said, keep reading below for our certified arborists’ expert tree care guide through each of the four seasons, no matter which part of the country you live in.
Winter Tree Maintenance
Our first stop on our all seasons tree care journey is winter. Winter is known as the “dormant” season in the tree care industry. While trees are not actively growing during these months, trees can sustain injury and damage from the harsh winter weather. Undoubtedly, performing winter tree maintenance is the best way to prevent future damage and promote a healthy growing season.
Types of winter tree damage can vary from climate to climate, but there are some common signs of winter damage you can look for.
Winter die-off is an injury that occurs when parts of the tree freeze and die off during the winter. These parts of the tree no longer produce new cells or growth. Tree limbs that suffer from winter die-off are vulnerable to breakage and falling without warning. Thus, this becomes a big liability in high winds and spring storms!
Signs of winter die-off include:
- Vertical cracks or holes where the bark is missing.
- Dry, brittle wood that easily breaks off.
- Large amounts of fungus.
- Exposed smooth wood with almost no bark.
- Sores or cankers on branches.
To prevent winter die-off and frost damage, simply shade the trunk of the tree. A burlap wrap will work! Additionally, a focus on pruning and fertilizing in the correct seasons will help prevent any winter die-off.
In our state of Colorado, we get our fair share of snow and inclement weather in the winter. Yet our many days of sun through this cold season can cause sunscald, even in the winter. For example, a typical sunny winter day in Denver could reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit. High-intensity winter sunlight heats up the tree trunk and causes it to come out of dormancy. So, tree cells and tissue become active again, only to be killed when the sun goes down and temperatures plummet at night.
Many places in the United States experience some variation of opposing sunlight and cold temperatures and this can make your trees especially susceptible to sunscald during this season. And for those of you living in an especially humid area with high summer temperatures, sunscald could be a year-long challenge for your trees.
Over time, this injury may appear as sunken and discolored bark, even falling off, revealing dead tree tissue. In order to prevent any sunscald, crepe-paper commercial tree wraps insulate bark and are an effective way to prevent sunscald risk. Start at the base of the tree and wrap trunks upward to a point just above the lowest branches. For best results, do this in late October or November before winter fully sets in. Then take off the tree wrap in April to avoid girdling and possible insect damage.
Soil nutrients and composition is important to the health of trees and shrubs year-round, but especially in winter. Eventually, dissolved salts in road runoff can alter the structure of the soil, causing it to become compacted. Trees’ access to nutrients, water, and oxygen is limited and harsh chemicals can cause more stress and even desiccation to trees.
To avoid salt injury, be careful where you shovel snow. Keep all salt deposits away from areas where runoff might reach plant roots. On the other hand, if you can’t avoid salt runoff, apply two inches of water to flush the area around the plants in early spring. Repeat this process again later in the same week.
Many states in the US experience dryness and drought in the winter months that can cause stress on trees and shrubs. While winter is the dormant season for plants, winter watering techniques will help ensure healthy landscaping in the spring. Snowfall alone won’t provide your trees with enough water. In light of this, on warmer winter days give your trees a drink by soaking the soil several inches deep and then allowing it to dry out completely between waterings.
Additional Winter Watering Tips
- Water only when air temperatures are above 50 degrees F.
- Get in the routine of watering at midday so it will have time to soak in before possibly freezing at night. We would recommend watering your trees at least once per month.
- As a general rule of thumb, provide 2 gallons of water for each diameter inch of the tree trunk. For example, a four-inch diameter tree should get 8 gallons per watering. To measure, use a ruler at knee height.
- Recently planted trees and shrubs need special attention. They require more water than established plants. Newly planted medium-sized shrubs require 5 gallons of water two times per month during the months of October- March.
Winter Tree Trimming
One of the best opportunities to trim trees (especially fruit trees) in most parts of the United States is during the winter months. Here’s why:
- During the winter season, trees go into a state called dormancy.
- During this time, trees naturally go to sleep, take a break, and stop producing new growth.
- Trimming during the wintertime will not cause the tree any stress and will encourage new growth to come in the springtime.
Like animals who hibernate, winter is a tree’s time to rest and recharge. Getting your annual trimming and pruning accomplished during the winter will cause less stress for your trees. The timing provides optimal wound closure and time for healing.
We’ve written a guide on DIY tree trimming if you’d like more information on how to do this yourself.
Spring Tree Maintenance
Our second all seasons’ tree care stop is the growing season: spring. Spring tree care is essential for the healthy future growth of a tree or shrub. The weather is finally starting to thaw out and that means getting out and prepping your landscape for spring and summer. You’re itching to get outdoors and enjoy all your favorite fair weather activities. Reading on the front porch, grilling out, and gardening are at the top of your list; but have you prepared your trees for their growing season?
Prepare the Soil
Water and snow can create water sink pockets at the base of shrubs and trees causing water damage to trunks. Spring yard maintenance starts with inspecting your soil levels and raising soil levels if needed. Equally important, winter can be drying to trees in drier climates, so fill any cracked or impacted soil with new, healthy soil. Next, water the newly backfilled space to help the dirt absorb its new addition and close off any remaining cracks. Walk around all trees and shrubs and weed any invasive plants, such as ivy or crabgrass. Lastly, add 2-3” of mulch at the base of trees, but not too close or you risk root rot.
Spring Is the Perfect Time to Fertilize
Give your trees the boost they deserve with well-timed and properly, professionally executed fertilization. The best time to apply fertilizer is when trees need it and when they are able to absorb the nutrients with their roots. This coincides in early spring when the weather is reasonable, trees have active root growth, and a decent amount of soil moisture.
Fertilization is the process of adding vital nutrients to the soil to help your trees and shrubs grow. To thrive, trees need three main types of nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients are essential for tree growth, but they are often lacking in urban soils.
Typically, professionals avoid fertilizing trees and shrubs in the high heat of the summer when they can become stressed by drought. Fertilization is also not recommended in the frigid cold of winter because plants are often unable to absorb the nutrients. With the right combination of timing and nutrients, you can help your trees and plants stimulate stunning new growth for the spring, summer, and fall months.
Initial Clean-Up for Spring
Spring cleaning helps remove potential disease and high-risk areas. Without a doubt, tree and shrub cleaning will ensure your lawn and garden will look their best all year round.
First and foremost, you need to remove any dead or diseased debris or branches that didn’t make it through the winter. In conjunction, you’ll want to thin out any thick growth towards the base of the plant to give the plant the room to breathe and prevent hazardous conditions.
Accumulated debris at the base of a tree puts it at a higher risk of (1) starting a wildfire and (2) suffering damage during a fire.
Here are our recommended steps to prevent the threat of wildfire damage:
- Do not stack branches or woody material under trees or large shrubs.
- Remove invasive woody plants from underneath cottonwoods.
- Remove ladder fuels by pruning off tree branches from ground level up to a height of 10 feet above ground, or up to one-third the height of the tree, whichever is less.
- Thin out the less-desirable trees to decrease competition and increase vigor of remaining trees in the stand.
- Leave enough young growth for habitat and tree regeneration.
Weed and Water
In addition to hazard prevention, standard weeding and watering during the spring months will give your trees a boost for the growing season. Here’s some of our tips:
- Weed around the base of trees and shrubs. Certain types of ivy, like English ivy, can be harmful to saplings and even mature trees. Know what’s growing around your trees and how it might affect their overall health.
- Do a full walk-through of all the trees and shrubs on your property. Are they planted in the right spacing and placement for their type? If not, you may need to relocate them to the right location on your property.
- You may not realize it, but your trees need watering throughout the entire year, not just when it’s hot outside. Check the soil moisture at the base of your trees and shrubs. Give your trees a good soaking at the base of the trees extending out to the edge of the canopy for at least five minutes with an open hose.
Early Spring Pruning
Spring is an excellent time to prune your trees as long as it’s done early in the growing season. Because late spring is the ideal growing season for most trees, pruning and thinning shrubs and trees at this time allows them ample time to recover. Additionally, this is a great time to address any abnormal growth that may hinder your tree’s growing capacity over the next few months.
We aren’t the only ones ready to come out of hibernation mode in the springtime. Spring pests are on the verge of waking and becoming active. There’s a small window of time to act and take preventative measures to control these pests before they invade.
Luckily, there are safe and effective treatments to manage and control these spring pests. Don’t let the common pests in your area ruin the quality outdoor time you crave. Stop infestation before it starts; prevention is absolutely the best medicine in this case.
The specific methods of prevention will depend on where you live and what types of trees you have, but here is some general information on pest prevention. We recommend researching which pests you are most susceptible to and their corresponding prevention options. Furthermore, if you are unsure which preventative measures you should take to protect your trees from pests, contact a certified arborist for a consultation.
Summer Tree Maintenance
Our next stop on our all seasons tree care journey is the time where your trees really shine: summer. Generally, summer is the season to relax, let your trees grow, and enjoy them. Most of the maintenance work is done in spring and fall, but there are certain situations that you should watch out for. In extenuating circumstances, summer tree care can be just as important as care in the active growing season! With summer comes soaring temps, long days of sun, and more moisture, and too much of any of these things could be a detriment to your trees’ health.
Prevent Heat Stress
With hot weather, tree roots need more water. Trees with wilted leaves, leaf drop, poor fruit development and frequent flower drops are all signs of tree heat stress. Thankfully, there are a few ways to prevent this in regions that experience drought from extreme heat:
- Watering regularly, especially before a heat wave hits.
- Avoid watering in the heat of the day. The best time to water is early morning hours or overnight when the temperatures are cooler and the water has time to reach roots before heating up or evaporating.
- Replenish mulch around a tree trunk, but away from the base of the tree. This helps a tree retain moisture and moderates soil temperature.
Fertilizing in the Summer
By and large, the summer heat and dryness can deplete the soil of key nutrients, making fertilization an important part of summer tree care. Fertilizing during the summer in addition to spring can help alleviate some of this stress by giving the tree the nutrients it needs to repair damage and regain its full strength.
The benefits of summer supplemental fertilization are endless! Here are a few reasons why we suggest it:
- Summer is a good time to fertilize trees because the roots are actively growing and can absorb nutrients efficiently.
- Warm summer weather and longer days stimulate growth.
- Fertilizing in summer also helps trees develop a strong root system before winter sets in.
- Fertilizing in summer helps newly transplanted trees become established more quickly and can give mature trees the nutrients they need to produce a strong flush of new growth.
- Summer is also an ideal time to correct any nutrient deficiencies that may have developed during the previous growing season.
Summer Tree Trimming
Trimming trees in spring and fall is great for mature trees because they will heal faster after pruning, but summer is a good time to tackle your tree care projects as well. Tree trimming can occur at any time of year, but summer is especially ideal for tree removals and light pruning.
Fall Tree Maintenance
Our last stop on our all seasons tree care journey is the end of the growing season for trees: fall.
Fall in many regions of the United States is beautiful. We love watching as the leaves turn red and gold and prepare themselves for the dry, cold winter ahead. Healthy leaves are usually green through the spring and summer months and as the weather turns into fall. Then the amount of daylight starts to shrink, signaling to the trees to change the colors. After all, trees understand that having less sunlight and colder temperature means that winter is coming. They stop producing chlorophyll, a green pigment that helps convert sunlight into nutrient-rich sugars through photosynthesis.
Fall Leaf Colors Explained
Yellow and Orange Leaves
If a leaf is more yellow or orange in the fall, it’s rich with carotenoids. This is the same pigment that’s found in carrots, pumpkins, egg yolks, and bananas. It’s a natural coloring that starts to show its presence when a plant has reached its end of maturity, like a banana turning yellow or leaves turning from green to gold.
Red and Purple Leaves
If a leaf is reddish in color, that’s because it contains more anthocyanin. Unlike carotenoids, anthocyanin is not present in leaves throughout the growing season. It’s only towards the end of the summer that anthocyanin begins to be produced.
When the leaves start to change color, it’s the perfect time for a fall tree care routine. Chiefly, mid-September is a great time to cut away the summer growth and reshape your trees and bushes for the winter and next spring.
Initial Clean Up for Fall
The first step for preparing your trees for winter in the fall is cleaning away dead or diseased branches. Firstly, look for discolored patches and oozing cracks in branches or the trunk. Check leaves for spots or shrinking black or dark brown coloring. If you find something suspicious-looking on your trees, check with a certified arborist to get a second opinion.
Removing & Shaping Your Tree
Heavy snow is a great possibility in many parts of the United States. The last thing you want is a snapped tree branch. And for the areas that won’t experience fall precipitation, you’ll probably have a bit of clean-up to do after summer storms. Simply remove any vulnerable or weak branches during the fall to prevent further winter tree damage. If the majority of your leaves have fallen, fall is a great time to critique the overall shape and canopy structure of your tree or bush.
Thick piles of leaves can invite snow mold to infest your lawn. Other diseases can also make their way from dead leaves to the root system of your trees. If you want a perfectly manicured lawn, track down every one of those leafy fugitives and send them packing. However, leaving a few leaves isn’t bad for your lawn. In fact, letting a few random leaves disintegrate into your lawn can be good fertilizer.
Your trees may not have their leaves, but they’re still drawing significant amounts of nutrients from the soil. It takes a lot of work to get rid of leaves and your trees are thirsty from recent hot, summer months! Use a subsurface probe to distribute water throughout the top 12 inches of soil surrounding your tree’s root system. This is the area where your tree needs the most water.
If your trees are thirsty, they’re also hungry. Even though your tree is drawing nutrients from the soil, it needs a kick start of good vitamins to help protect its vascular system heading into winter. We recommend using a slow-release tree fertilizer in the fall to give your tree the maximum time frame to absorb crucial nutrients.
Here For You
The best way to care for your trees and shrubs is season-specific, ongoing care throughout the year. We applaud your dedication if you are committed to performing all seasons’ tree care yourself! But if you find yourself overwhelmed, we recommend hiring a certified arborist. We wrote a guide to determine when to hire a certified arborist that may point you in the right direction for your specific needs.