December 15, 2020

Trees In Winter

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The sight of snow and frost on trees in winter looks picture perfect outdoors and sometimes you can hear the sharp crack of trunks adjusting or the plunk of heavy snow descending from branches. We notice the beauty and sight but how do trees survive all the seasonal changes, especially in winter?  

Trees first slow down their cellular growth, focusing their energies on survival through the sometimes long winter. Trees go through a process like hibernation called dormancy, this dormancy keeps them alive during the cold temperatures, everything within the tree slows down; metabolism, energy consumption, growth and more. Trees do not die during the winter; they just take a break. Since there is less sunlight in the winter and the tree can't produce as much food, trees must conserve their energy for future seasons. While trees are dormant on the surface, above ground, the underground tree system made up of roots is busy at work growing, searching, and retaining nutrients to help get the tree through the winter to have enough resources available into its next active season. 

Impeded growth messages in the tree, which saves a lot of energy to stall or impede growth during the winter, during this time the tree isn't making any new food for energy. The tree will also begin to change how it deals with water within its tissues, while the water in the cells may get below freezing, it can’t form crystals so trees rarely freeze over and die. Trees transform starch into sugars that act as a sort of antifreeze. 

Deciduous trees shed their leaves because of snow, as well as cold, and to halt all growth. For evergreens, like pine and spruce, leaves have evolved into long thin needles. These needles are covered in a waxy substance which helps reduce moisture loss and damage from colder temperatures. Evergreen needles and even the bark of some trees, such as the poplar tree, can still make food through photosynthesis, even when temperatures are below freezing. Many evergreens have branches that are flexible enough to bend under the weight of heavy snow, this prevents branches from breaking and damaging this trunk. Flexible branches that bend downwards can also shed snow, unfortunately sometimes right on top of our heads!

Trees are incredibly adaptable and capable when it comes to surviving winter weather. Making sure your trees receive proper water and fertilization during the spring, summer and fall can ensure they’re ready to face the winter. Proper mulching can also protect roots during freezing weather. Many people plant trees in the fall. The roots won’t have much time to establish before winter. Several inches of appropriate mulch for the species of tree can help. So can installing guards or braces to keep the tree upright until spring.

Trees in winter are incredible, they can adapt to freezing temperatures and provide us with warmth and safety!