Winter Tree Care Tips for Northeast Ohio

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If you were distracted by the beauty of fall and left some garden chores for later, you’re not alone! But by December, winter weather is setting in here in northeast Ohio. That means it’s time to give your trees some attention to make sure they’ll be safe, healthy, and ready for spring. Just follow our winter tree care recommendations below.

How can I prepare my trees for winter?

There is a lot you can do! Your goal should be to make sure your trees are sound, well-pruned, protected from severe winter weather, and an enhancement rather than a hazard to your and your neighbors’ properties.

Broken tree branches ready to fall in the Northeast Ohio area

Check your trees for broken branches

Start by inspecting your trees

The best place to start is with a plan and a visual evaluation of your trees to identify any problems that could get worse over the winter. Here are some of the things to look for:

  • Do you see any broken or overloaded branches? Take care of them right away by having them professionally pruned
  • Is there any damaged or diseased bark? This could split or peel during cold weather. Have it inspected by a Certified Arborist to make sure it won’t compromise your tree’s health when spring arrives.
  • Are there branches overhanging into your neighbor’s yard? How about large, heavy branches hanging over your home? These could break and fall under heavy snow or ice load.
  • Is it time to replenish mulch around your trees? If there’s less than an inch or two, it’s a good idea to top it up. You can find details on using mulch here.
  • When was the last time you applied a slow-release fertilizer for your trees and shrubs? Most urban and suburban trees will benefit from the additional nutrients provided by a carefully blended organic fertilizer.
  • Do you have any trees that have been cabled or braced? November or December is a good time to check the hardware to make sure it’s sound and won’t come apart in a winter storm. This should be done by a Certified Arborist every year.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Just like in your home, getting your garden and your trees prepared for winter is much easier than responding to a winter emergency.

Be prepared for snow and ice

Winter in northeast Ohio is hard! It can feel like wind, ice, snow, warming, freezing, ice, snow, repeat. You can’t predict the weather, but you can be ready for it.

Snow and ice loads on tree branches can become so heavy that they break shrub and tree branches. The best way to keep your trees safe is to prune out any diseased or damaged areas that could fail in winter and to ensure that the tree’s structure can support the extra weight of snow or ice.

If you don’t get around to having your trees pruned before winter arrives, don’t worry. Many trees can be pruned during the dormant season. In fact, winter pruning has many benefits that make it a good choice for those of us who don’t get around to it until after the winter holiday season.

snow on branches of a tree in Northeastern Ohio

What to do if your tree is covered in snow or ice

If you get threatening snow loads on your tree’s branches, don’t shake them! Vigorous shaking could break branches made brittle by cold temperatures and cause the branches (and snow/ice) to fall on top of you.

Don’t hit them with a broom or rake either (yes, we’ve seen people doing that!) – it’ll just damage or break branches, leaving them vulnerable to pests and disease when spring arrives.

If you get ice loads, leave them! Ice that’s covering plants and branches should melt off naturally – this will avoid damaging bark and foliage.

Never try to cut through ice-covered branches or tree trunks. The slippery ice could easily make your saw slide and cut you.

tree trunk wrapped in burlap for winter protection in Northeast Ohio

Wrap trees and shrubs

Tree and shrub wraps or blankets should be installed before snowfall. These wraps protect tender leaves and twigs, and protect foliage against sun and salt burn.

We recommend using burlap to protect newly planted trees and shrubs, trees or shrubs that were planted late in the season (they tend to have underdeveloped root systems), and trees exposed to drying winter winds, sunscald, snow loads and damaging salt.

BONUS: Deer can’t get to the leaves so your plants are more likely to survive winter intact!

A snow shovel removes snow from a walkway in Northeast Ohio

Minimize your use of ice melts, if possible

Avoid or minimize the use of salt or ice melt

De-icers, such as road salt, should be used as a last resort, because of how damaging salt is to trees and shrubs. Try sweeping or shoveling off snow as soon as it falls, and scatter salt or birdseed to give traction on walking surfaces.

NOTE: If you do use de-icers, be sure to protect your trees and shrubs against salt damage. You can read about preventing salt damage here.


Spread mulch around trees

The hardest working material in your garden may be mulch! It has so many useful qualities, such as:

  • Protecting plants
  • Regulating soil temperatures
  • Keeping water from evaporating
  • Suppressing weeds
  • Improving soil texture, and
  • Making your planting areas look neat and tidy.

Prepare for winter by making sure your trees and plants have a good layer of mulch around them. A layer of compost below your mulch adds even more value by providing slow-release nutrients to tree roots all year ‘round.

Mulch made from organic materials such as fallen leaves, yard waste, and wood chips, naturally breaks down over time so we recommend a regular schedule of replenishing mulch. It’s an inexpensive investment with big rewards.

REMEMBER: Because of how trees grow, you always want to keep mulch away from contact with tree trunks. No mulch volcanoes or buried trunk flares! These mistakes can kill your tree if pathogens or pests find a way into your tree, and mulch up against a trunk can harbor both. If in doubt, see our article on how to properly use mulch.

Take Advantage of Fair Winter Weather

During periods of warmer, clear weather you can catch up on many of these tree care tips. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

Winter Tree Care Isn't a Sprint

Don't feel overwhelmed by all the things involved in winter tree care. While some tasks are best done early in the season, others can be done over the course of the winter.

If you don’t know what your trees need, or aren't sure how to recognize potential hazards, call your local tree care professionals at Independent Tree. We’re trained in all aspects of tree care and are here to help you protect your trees from even the worst of northeast Ohio’s winter weather.

Schedule your Winter Tree Care Services

Contact Independent Tree today to schedule your winter tree care services. Remember, we work on keeping your trees healthy and safe all year!

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About The Author

Alan Kraus owner of Independent Tree in Newbury, Ohio

Alan Kraus

Alan Kraus is the founder and owner of Independent Tree, a full-service tree care company in Northeastern Ohio serving Eastern Cuyahoga, Geauga, Portage & Lake Counties. Alan is a certified arborist with a lifelong love of trees and with roots in the community he serves.  More About Alan >


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