What Is This Weird Winter Doing to My Trees?

We are in the midst of winter here on the East End, but the weather certainly hasn’t been indicative of the date on the calendar. While it’s meant more time to spend outdoors, what it will ultimately mean for the trees in our yards is another question. Fox Tree Service president Bart L. Fuscoa Certified Arborist and Registered Consulting Arborist—is here to share his insights.

The Question: I do not ever remember a winter as warm as this one. Will it have an adverse effect on my trees?

The Answer from Fox Tree Service president Bart L. Fusco: We can expect a few results from the warm weather this winter, some of which I have already noticed.

While inspecting my client’s properties, I notice a large percentage of live and healthy Hemlock Wooly Adelgid on Hemlock trees. Also, in one case, a cherry tree located in the foundation plant bed, near the house, has a colony of Peach Tree Scale in the crawler stage, which is very unusual at this time of year. With the lack of winter kill on many piercing-sucking insects, such as the Adelgid and Scale insects, I suspect a larger than normal insect population to appear this spring. This also includes Ticks, which overwinter in the adult stage are often killed during extremely cold weather. The plus side may be that the predatory insects will also come through the winter in larger numbers. The predatory wasp, which feeds on the eggs of the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar in the early spring before the caterpillars hatch, is one such predator.

Another important point is that when snow covers the soil, it acts as an insulation mat, keeping the soil from freezing or defrosting too quickly. We do not have this condition this year, and I am not sure how roots will react. Luckily, we have had enough rain to keep the soil moist. This helps the root systems in two ways.

First, as long as the soil is not frozen, roots of trees and other woody plants will still remain active during the winter, and will require a moist environment.

Secondly, the soil and roots of plant material along the south shore of Long Island had a large amount of salt dumped on them during the hurricane this past summer. We have had heavy rain falls this winter, and even a thunderstorm or two. The benefit from the rain this winter, onto a defrosted soil, is the leaching out of this excess salt from the top layer of soil. However, the tree and other plant material may have excess salt in the foliage and on the new buds. Using a plant wash in the early spring will help reduce damage as the plants start up.

Evergreen trees and other woody plants are prone to a browning of the leaves and needles, often referred to as winter injury. While water is not easily replaced during winter months, the loss of moisture results in plants not maintaining a normal transpiration rate. A late winter Anti-desiccant application would help slow the transpiration, and reduce winter injury.

Have questions about the trees in your yard or caring for your trees this winter? You can contact Fox Tree Service in Suffolk at  631-283-6700, and in Nassau at 516-921-7111, or visit online at foxtreeservice.com.  

Read more tree tips from Bart L. Fusco right here!