Timely Tree Tips; suggestions for bare-tree season

Don't forget to check often any structural support cables or stakes used on your trees.  PHOTO DNR
Don’t forget to check often any structural support cables or stakes used on your trees.

Winter is often regarded as a slow time for working with trees; even the hardiest of Northwesterners don’t exactly enjoy working outside in freezing cold, pouring rain, or blowing snow. Any volunteer coordinator will tell you that it’s much harder to coax would-be volunteers out of their cozy abodes for a mid-morning ivy yank on a gray day in January.

Nonetheless, this season of leafless trees sets the stage for work that might be easier – yes, easier, to do now than in the warm days of summer.

Here are some activities particularly suitable to our leafless deciduous trees in winter:

  • Tree Inspections. Leaves send us important signals about tree health; however a dense summer canopy may obscure other signs of tree distress such as dead wood, broken limbs, cracks, cavities, included bark, and decay fungi. Binoculars are a great tool for performing ground-based inspections of tree canopies in the leaf-off season.
  • Cable Inspections. Many tree owners make the mistake of installing structural support cables and never following up with regular inspections. Cable inspections are easier in the winter as there are no leaves to interfere with visual inspections. Cabling systems should be periodically inspected by an ISA Certified Arborist to ensure they are still performing as intended and no causing harm to the tree(s).
  • Invasive Species Control. Remove perennial invasive plants in the winter to reduce the abundance of seeds come spring. Where English Ivy is flourishing out-of-reach in tree canopies, winter is a great time to cut a “lifesaver” ring in the ivy around trees. Doing so means you’ll witness the dieback of treated ivy before tree leaves re-emerge, and you will be assured your hard work was effective.
  • Tree Removal. No leaves means less mess. Frozen ground also means less damage to turf from heavy equipment and other impacts of large tree removal.
  • Structural Pruning.  If January brings a lull in your maintenance schedule, fill it with structural pruning to “pay it forward” and you won’t regret it. Structural pruning is easier in winter when you can clearly see the structure of the tree. Pruning to encourage good tree structure in young trees can significantly reduce the need for costly tree maintenance in the future. This work is best done by those with the experience and skill to recognize the difference between dead limbs and live ones in the absence of leaves.

If tree work entices you outside this winter, stay warm, stay dry, stay hydrated, and stay positive. Remember that you’re doing important work for a good cause. The busy days of spring will be here before you know it, and you’ll be grateful to have made the most of your time and maintenance opportunities this winter.

From DNR’s January Tree Link Newsletter

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