The Tree in Winter


You might think that when snow is on the ground and a bite is in the air, the garden shuts down. Not so! When the pace of the garden slows, the Spotts crew turns our attention to tree health.

We spoke with Jerome Delbridge, an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist, to get the scoop on taking care of trees in fall and winter.

Why do tree work in late fall and winter?

“A couple of reasons,” Jerome says. “One is that fall and winter are important seasons for root growth. But if the roots are circling the tree instead of growing into the garden, they’ll girdle the tree. Late fall and winter are an ideal time to do root pruning and check for root health.”

When the leaves fall, we can really see the structure of the tree.

When the leaves fall, we can really see the structure of the tree.

Another reason involves pruning. “Proper pruning of young trees is important for their long-term structural health. After a tree’s leaves have fallen to the ground, we can more easily examine the tree’s structure and prepare it to support a large and healthy life.”

And trees are dormant in winter, he adds. “By pruning in winter, we ensure they’ll recover quickly once they move out of dormancy and the sap starts running again.”

Are trees likely to be damaged by winter weather?

Sunscald can be a real problem on some species of young trees that have thin bark,” says Jerome. “When lower branches are removed—as is often the case with nursery trees—the sun can warm the bark during the day, then the sap freezes at night. When the sap freezes, it kills cells and connective tissue, which is extremely damaging to the tree.”

Beyond sunscald, Jerome says the biggest problem is branches falling in winter weather, possibly hitting cars, houses, and power lines. Proper pruning minimizes the risk of falling branches.

What about fruit trees?

“While all trees need good structural pruning while they’re young, fruit trees need pruning throughout their lives to ensure good fruit set,” he explained. “Pruning can also help control certain fungal conditions that may affect the health of the tree.”

February is the best times for pruning most fruit trees. Spotts Garden Service prunes all sorts of dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, including espalier.

Call today!

Spotts Garden Service prunes fruit trees and ornamental trees under 20′ tall. So give us a call at (317) 356-8808 to schedule your pruning today!


Amy graduated from DePauw University with a degree in physics, a lifelong love of theatre, and a problem-solving style that combines the approaches from both those fields. A Master Gardener and long-time communications professional, Amy conducts gardening seminars and blogs about gardening in addition to her work with Spotts.

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