As spring approaches and temperatures fluctuate, having that burst of warmer weather might be nice for us, but it can be a problem for trees. Rapid changes in temperature can cause freeze and thaw damage in trees that will cause problems down the road.
The good news is that you can take action to prevent and mitigate damage and keep your trees healthy for beautiful spring blooms.
Freezing Can Cause Tissue Damage
Much like frostbite that occurs on our skin, the woody tissue in small twigs and branches can freeze causing damage to cells that are part of a tree’s growth process. Most trees have chemicals that move throughout small twigs that reduce the likelihood of tissue freezing.
While the chemicals are very different, its much like the anti-freeze you put in your car! If temperatures drop suddenly and a very hard freeze results, these chemicals may not have the opportunity to move quickly enough to provide the needed protection. This means that buds can freeze, and even tissue along twig surfaces. Dead spots are the result and may be evident during spring green up. Even if the results are not immediately obvious, there may be cell damage that increases the likelihood of attack by fungi or organisms that can kill the entire twig or spread through the tree.
Trees Can Bud Too Early
Late winter or early spring warm spells may fool some temperature sensitive tissues to swell and begin to grow. Buds often fall victim to this temperature trickery. This will reduce spring flower displays and may reduce the formation of new leaves or branches. This can be problematic because it stresses the tree and causes dieback of new growth, leaf browning, and drop. Growth can appear waterlogged and withered.
These symptoms can be confused with blights or other diseases. One distinct difference is that blights are typically more progressive while freeze damage is sudden.
Trees Can Suffer Root Damage & Other Maladies
Freeze and thaw damage can damage your tree via root damage, cracking, and frost heaving. Frozen roots will not move water and nutrients. While surprising, many trees will continue to move water and nutrients throughout the “dormant” season. If roots are frozen and water movement is suspended, the root tissue can die and above ground twigs may not receive needed water or chemicals to prevent freeze damage in their cells. The thawing and freezing process causes tree cells to shrink and then expand, which causes soil and bark to move and crack.
If the roots of your tree are exposed, apply a layer of mulch to protect them from the elements and regulate temperature and water absorption.
Take Action To Prevent Damage To Your Trees
Trees, both young and old, can be protected from freeze and thaw damage through action on your part. Mulching, slow-release fertilization, pruning, and consultations by ISA-certified arborists can limit the damage of weather changes.