Arborist Bart Fusco Shares Some Must-Know Winter Tree Care Tips

Snow covered home, street and yards
Image: Darryl Brooks/123RF

After 48 years in the tree trade, Registered Consulting Arborist and Fox Tree Service owner Bart Fusco certainly knows which way the wind blows on the East End when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of winter tree care. 

What types of trees can be trimmed in the colder months?
For most clients, I like to prune in the fall or very early spring. Fruit trees should be pruned when they are dormant, and many fruit production farms prune all winter.

What’s the difference between “trimming” and “pruning?”
Pruning is a way to enhance a tree, shrub or other woody plant’s structure and esthetics. The word “trimming” is more often used to describe the cutting of a plant’s foliage using hedge trimmers or small hand tools.

Why is the dormant season best for pruning?
Oak trees, for instance, should not be pruned in the spring or summer because of a disease that’s new to Long Island—oak wilt is a disease that can kill a tree in six weeks. It spreads most readily when the disease spores, and the beetles that spread them, are most active.

What are common tree care mistakes that homeowners make in the winter?
Ignoring a branch that touches your roof. Snow can be brushed away, but if it builds up and ice forms, the branch may adhere to your structure and cause a roof leak. At any time of year, this branch could clog your gutter. Also—the use of chainsaws. They’ve allowed homeowners to really over-prune.

What trees should be wrapped in burlap for the winter?
Recently planted trees and trees that are near the ocean—they’re in danger of damage from wind and salt.

When and how should trees be wrapped?
Late in the fall, when they’ve gone dormant, because trees transpire. Burlap doesn’t protect from snow load. In fact, it can hold the snow and, if it doesn’t melt, it can become very heavy and also adhere to the plant. And the enclosed area can form a microclimate rife with fungus that thrives all winter long.

Up until about 45 years ago, wooden structures were routinely built to support the burlapping. If you don’t have a support structure around boxwoods, just burlap around two sides. An alternative to burlapping evergreens is the periodic application of a waxy anti-desiccant.

What should one do if a tree is weighted down with ice?
Leave it alone until after the storm has passed. Trying to remove ice frozen to the plants can rip the branch, causing more harm than the ice. Wait for it to melt.

We’re almost at the end of January. Is it too late to add a thin layer of organic mulch beneath your trees’ drip line?
No, I add mulch in January and February. It’s good to get it down before the last snowfall, so that it can better migrate into the soil.

What are some good varieties of trees to plant near your East End home?
Anything native—check in with our area Cornell Cooperative Extension for a full list.

What trees attract songbirds?
Most fruit trees—the Eastern Red Cedar provides red berries in the fall, high bush blueberries fruit in the spring.

Is a changing climate affecting what one should plant?
Increasing water temperatures mean more storms and that means more salt spray. Crepe myrtle is a popular tree on our shores, but it’s always under stress now from salt injury.

Do you have any good news or advice about combating deer?
They have depth perception problems. Two four-foot fences really do work as well as one eight-foot fence.

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