Ultimate guide to tree preparation

Jim Upson, director of Upson Mowers and the UK distributor of Skarper chippers, offers the ultimate guide to tree preparation.

As the days get longer, our trees inevitably grow leafier. They transform from a bare, spindly mass of twigs and branches to luscious, green miracles of nature. However, if you’d like your trees to transition through the seasons with the utmost grace and perfection, there are some actions you need to take before the blossoms bloom!

Prepping for Winter

Ideally, in late Autumn, prune any dead wood from the trees as an important step to keep them healthy throughout the winter. If Autumn has passed by, it’s not too late as you can still trim most trees while they’re dormant through the Winter months. 

Providing a generous supply of mulch is also a necessity throughout the colder months. The repetition of the ground freezing and thawing can result in the soil expanding and cracking, playing havoc for the roots. You can remedy this with 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base of the tree in late Autumn, but also right into early Winter, to insulate the roots.

Avoid the possibility of sunscald affecting your tree by wrapping your trunks, especially saplings, in a light-coloured crepe paper. You should wrap from the base up and aim to overlap the layers by one-third. Sunscald is caused by fluctuating winter temperatures. It involves the process of the warm winter sun essentially waking up the trunk cells before the freezing temperatures return and kill off any active cells – which can result in scarring.

Winter Care

It’s preferable to avoid using any de-icing products around trees, but if you feel as though you need to be sure to use a product that doesn’t contain sodium chloride. Rock salt can negatively affect a tree’s natural resourcefulness in absorbing oxygen, water and nutrients. If selecting an ice melting product that’s safe for your tree, it should contain either calcium, potassium or magnesium chloride.

Weighty snow or ice can be detrimental to the safety of your tree’s branches, as well as those who stand under them! It’s of great importance to routinely clear away this freezing build-up any time it reoccurs. However, you shouldn’t try to break off a build-up of ice as this could result in damage to the tree. Instead, aim to use a healthy de-icing product or, even better, hook up a hose to a source of warm water and clear away the offending ice with a quick splash. 

The trunk wrapping you may have done in preparation for Winter might effectively keep critters at bay, but there is a chance you’ll need a tad more protection to prevent hungry pests from snacking. A second wrap of wire mesh can assist in protecting your tree from the destruction of any desperate creatures. Be sure not to wrap it too tightly around the trunk and always bury it a couple of inches deep at the base of the tree to stop any critters burrowing underneath.

Prepping for Spring

As Winter draws to a close, there is work to be done to prepare for the delights of Spring. Once the time is right, and the coldest weather has retreated, we can begin to unwrap our trees. The fruitful bounties of Spring will keep any hungry pests busy and now that the temperature is no longer freezing every night, your tree trunks will be safe from the dangers of sunscald. 

Just as we prepared for the ferocities of Winter by pruning our trees, we must now repeat the process with Spring in mind. Whilst they’re still dormant we can take advantage of their bare branches for an optimum pruning session. Pruning is vital as it’s a chance to rid trees of any snow or ice damage, which may have ultimately led to some dead, diseased or simply unsafe branches.

Once a tree has been pruned, give it a full inspection, from the base up, and look out for any other signs of snow or ice damage. Indications of tree damage can be seen in cankers, cracks and small holes in the trunk or a spread of dead branches and twigs.

Arguably the best thing you can do with any pruned twigs and branches (as long as they’re not diseased) is to put them through a wood chipper. The resulting wood chips will have a variety of uses, including the perfect base for some excellent mulch, ready to be spread on your flowerbeds, wood chip paths, or used as root insulation for the following winter.