How To Best Prepare Newly-planted Trees for Winter

Peter Kuitenbrouwer

Trees don’t ask us to pull them from the earth of the nursery or the forest where they began their life. We choose to move trees to a new home for various reasons, from beautifying our properties to improving the local environment. Pile on the indignities of winter in Canada, and you can start to see why a tree that changed its address this year will need plenty of assistance to thrive as the wind begins to howl.

There are ways to ease this transition. Help you can give your trees includes water, mulch, compost, and wrapping them in burlap.

Trees take up water and nutrients through fine, absorbing feeder roots. When we move a tree, those small roots often suffer damage. The Canadian Journal of Forest Research found that a natural seedling has a root system several metres in diameter and up to a metre deep, whereas a planted tree’s roots are confined to the planting hole.

How to help? Give the transplanted tree plenty of water – even in fall and winter. “From the moment of planting,” A.N. Burnett, a forester from the University of Victoria, noted in the journal article, “a tree can lose water rapidly.”

The Arbor Day Foundation suggests that young or newly planted trees be watered “every couple of weeks during the winter when there is no snow cover.”

Mulch can also help trees with their moisture needs. Mulch acts as a blanket to protect your tree’s roots from very cold weather, and also to keep moisture in the soil. Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forest (LEAF), a non-profit based in Toronto, advocates the right kind of mulch, properly applied.

Start with undyed woodchips (some companies make dyed woodchips from demolition materials, and this mulch can contain toxic chemicals). Apply the mulch in a kind of donut around the tree. Do not pile mulch against a tree’s trunk: this can hold moisture against the trunk and cause it to rot. Compost can also provide moisture and nutrients to your trees; leaves are in fact nature’s compost. Leave the leaves, instead of raking them up, and your trees will thank you.

In winter, dry winds can take moisture from trees, which is sometimes fatal. To prevent this, wrap young trees in burlap, tied in place with twine, to help them stay hydrated. Burlap is porous, so the tree can breathe.

In winter, warm sun in daytime can heat up one side of a tree’s branches; when the sun sets, the tree freezes and expands quickly, which causes damage to the bark and delicate tissues underneath. Burlap wrap may help to prevent this. The burlap can also keep away pests, such as insects and rodents that might chew on your tree.

Freezing rain can cause ice to form on tree branches. The branches sometimes break off from the weight. Trees wrapped in burlap escape this threat. Burlap also protects your trees from any contact with salt the municipality may spread on the street or sidewalk, or that you put on your driveway or path.

“Moving to a new home can be fun, but it can also bring some stress,” said Michael Petryk, Director of Operations at Tree Canada. “It’s the same for trees. With a bit of care, we can ease the trees’ transition to their new surroundings, and help them to thrive.”


Do you prepare your trees for winter? Ridgewood Tree Corp.

Dreamworks Tree Service, Uxbridge: Caring for Newly Planted and Transplanted Trees

Greenbloom Landscaping: Why Should You Wrap Your Trees in Winter?

Larum, Darcy: Is Colored Mulch Toxic? Safety of Dyed Mulch in the Garden, in Gardening Know How

Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests, Toronto: Ongoing Care for Trees

Maintaining a Newly Planted Tree: Green Drop, Calgary

Arbor Day Foundation: Winter Tree Watering Tips

Treehugger: Transplant Shock — Caring for Newly Replanted Trees


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