Tips for winter tree care

Winter tree care pays good dividends. Although trees in our neighborhoods provide numerous benefits, we might not stop to appreciate them as often as we should. Besides enhancing property values and providing habitat for animals and birds, trees clean storm water, improve air quality and even reduce energy costs.

For example, conifers planted on the north or northwest sides of houses can serve as windbreaks, reducing winter heating bills by 10 to 50 percent. Trees pay us back in other ways, too. Research conducted in the Pacific Northwest by the U.S. Forest Service indicates that every dollar a city invests in trees returns $2.70 in benefits.

Trees also enhance property values, and research reveals that shoppers are likely to spend more money in tree-lined business districts than in those without trees.

Winter storms that bring snow, ice, rain and winds can take a heavy toll on local trees. However, arborists usually advise homeowners to slow down and exercise caution when dealing with a storm's aftermath. That's because there are two common mistakes made during poststorm cleanup activities. The first is using aggressive pruning techniques on trees that need only light pruning; the second is trying to save trees that already are well on their way to becoming hazardous.

Pruning a tree incorrectly can weaken it, setting it up to become hazardous. "Topping" — the practice of removing large branches and tops of trees — is especially likely to create a hazardous tree. Topped trees are much more likely to break or uproot in a storm than trees with normal branch structures.

Young trees are especially vulnerable to temperature and moisture fluctuations. If you haven't done so already, place a 3- to 4-inch layer of dry leaves or mulch around the base of your tree (keeping it several inches away from the trunk) as good insurance that both conditions can be managed during winter months.

If you're thinking about planting new trees when the ground thaws this spring, winter is a good time to browse through tree catalogs. Remember to allow room for both a tree's roots and crown. Also, make sure the tree you choose has minimal potential for conflicts with overhead power lines.

Dogwood, some maples, hawthorn and Japanese snowbell are examples of trees that will grow comfortably under power lines without conflict.

With foresight and care, trees in your yard will pay you back many times over with environmental, social and economic benefits for years to come.

For more information about trees and tree care, see

Cynthia Orlando has a degree in forest management and is a certified arborist with Oregon Department of Forestry

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