Five tips to help prep your trees for winter

Cold weather in Chicago means the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. Luckily, local tree experts say now is a great time to get outside to admire and ensure all your trees are healthy.

"Think of winterizing as preparation for spring," says Matt Schaefer, ISA Certified Arborist and district manager of the Barrington Davey Tree office. "Some plants require extra protection from harsh conditions and salt."

Schaefer, of Elgin, says the better you care for your landscape in the winter, the less you have to get it ready for the spring. Trees will emerge healthier and perform better when they awaken from dormancy. On the flip side, if plants enter winter stressed, their problems will only worsen.

Regardless of what weather lies ahead, play it safe and keep your trees in pristine condition this winter with these tips.

• Mulch, hydrate and feed: Mulching, watering and fertilization are important throughout the year, so head outside while you still have time to get your trees the nutrients they need for the long, wintry months.

Schaefer urges homeowners to add at least a 2 to 4 inch blanket of mulch over as much of the root zone as possible. Apply a slow-release fertilizer to help keep trees nourished all winter long.

Come spring, your trees will be blooming and ready to show off. And don't forget about giving newly planted trees one last deep watering. Water new evergreens until the ground freezes.

• Dormant pruning: Removing dead, diseased, or unsafe branches helps trees maintain a safe structure and tolerate high winds. Certified arborists specialize in knowing just what branches to remove (and how to do it) to reduce hazards.

Your arborist can tell the difference between live and dead branches, even with the leaves off, and they can better evaluate the trees' structure without the foliage.

Well-maintained, properly pruned trees are less likely to break and cause damage in heavy wind, rain, and snow.

• Keep pests away: Apply dormant oil in the fall to stop overwintering insects from developing further. While dormant oils eliminate harmful pests, they're less toxic to beneficial bugs. In spring, you'll have fewer damaging insects gnawing on fresh tree foliage and fruit.

• Inspect: If you see a tree bending or drooping because of snow and ice accumulation, think twice before shaking the branches. Branches coated in ice can become quite brittle - shaking them can cause damage or breakage.

Also, since trees are flexible, suddenly knocking the ice weight off may cause branches to snap back, potentially damaging the tree.

Properly pruned trees should be able to withstand heavy snow and ice.

• Hold the salt: Rock salt damage can make winter unpleasant for your trees. Salt runoff washes into the soil and can be taken up by the roots, causing disfigured foliage, stunted growth, severe decline and even death.

Applying the gypsum to trees, plants and lawns now will help reduce the damage from the get-go. There are also environmentally friendly snow melt options available.

Follow these guidelines to help trees stand strong all winter. If your trees need help, contact your local arborist at

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