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Will Fall Frost Hurt New Trees?

Newly planted, young trees and saplings need care and attention. The onset of winter and the potential for a light freeze makes this even more so. Trees are susceptible to the ravages of frost, cold winds, heavy snow, bitter ice, and bright sun. Ironically, snow cover can help a tree insulate against freezing temperature and cold winds. However, fall frost is more harmful and something to watch out for.

Will Fall Frost Hurt New Trees?

Keep an eye on the thermometer. Frost will occur at air temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The repetitive freezing and thawing out of soil sometimes causes soil to expand and contract which may cause root damage. Whereas heavy snow can break tree branches with its sheer weight, frost can kill a young tree. Here are some things you can do to protect your tree investments from fall frost: water, mulch, wrap and prune.

Water

A newly planted tree or sapling does not yet have a sufficiently well enough developed root system that can reach down deep into the soil to find water. This is especially true in the winter when the groundwater is deeper. This becomes an even bigger problem after a dry summer. Therefore, it is important to water proactively before the ground freezes, usually around October. Investigate further to check local weather cycles in your specific state or area. If the winter is a mild one, keep watering frequently. Make sure to water if you notice any browning occurring on the evergreen trees.

Mulch

Mulch is a layer of material on top of surface soil. It helps to preserve the moisture in the soil by helping the soil to retain water. It also helps to improve the health and fertility of the soil, as well as reduces the growth of weeds. Furthermore, mulch insulates the soil and so keeps the soil temperature higher, which is helpful to trees. In addition, mulch helps to prevent frost and cold air from penetrating the areas around the roots. This is important because newly planted or young roots are particularly vulnerable. Typically mulch is made from organic materials, however, not always exclusively. You will need a layer of mulch with a radius of about two feet, and approximately four inches deep, around the base of the trunk.

Wrap

This is for trees with thinner bark as well as young or newly planted trees. Wrap helps to protect against frost and also sunscald. Sunscald occurs after the sun has been heating the bark which then cracks and dries out when clouds appear. The needles on evergreen trees are also susceptible to this. Wrapping can protect trees from the canopy to the base, and shield them from frost. Use a product like a plastic tree guard or an opaque protective wrap. To further protect fruit trees, spray them with a frost shield which is an anti-transparent. The protective film will help prevent moisture loss.

Prune

Prior to the onset of the dormant period in winter, when the growing season slows, is the best time to prune. Pruning removes damaged, dying, and dead branches. This helps the tree to conserve energy and moisture. Pruning also protects the tree from any disease that might be spreading from the dead or dying branches onto the healthy parts of the tree.

Local advice

The tips above are generic. Conditions vary from region to region and some things work better than others. There is no substitute for getting advice from your local nursery, so check with them first before spending money.

Additional Reading:

Early and Late Frosts and Freezes

Hardiness Zones – Nebraska

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