There is always so much to do to get ready for winter.
With the mad rush to harvest the last of the crops, mulch and cut back perennials, and surround the cool-weather vegetables with hoop houses, it can be so easy to forget about the trees!
It’s All About the Roots
The roots are such a crucial component of a tree. They are the link between the tree and the nutrient-rich soil below.
Start by cleaning up debris around the base of plants.
Remove any fallen fruit that is rotting on the ground as well as any left on the branches.
Rake up fallen leaves, and be sure to dispose of anything that shows signs of pests or disease rather than mulching it or putting it on the compost pile.
Layer on the Mulch
Speaking of mulch, this is another important factor in protecting your trees through the coldest time of year.
Mulch insulates the roots, protecting them from the detrimental effects of freeze-thaw cycles.
shredded leaves, or straw mulch.
Feel free to apply your chosen material liberally, applying a layer at least a few inches thick in a wide ring around the trunk of each of your trees, at least three or four feet in diameter.
compost or rotted manure as these could provide an unwanted boost of nitrogen, triggering new growth at a time when plants should be headed into dormancy.
A couple of deep waterings before the ground freezes solid will help to strengthen and insulate the roots in preparation for dormancy.
Use a soaker hose to water slowly and deeply, making sure the water penetrates about a foot into the soil. Do this early in the day when temperatures are above 40°F.
Protect from Animal Damage
With other sources of food being less available in winter, the local wildlife will begin searching for anything they can find.
Young saplings in particular have branches that are just the right height for hungry deer or moose to reach.
making a DIY deer fence.
Small rodents can also do damage during the winter by gnawing on roots and trunks.
You can use a hardware cloth barrier around the base of the tree. Make sure the cloth extends at least 12 inches into the soil.
Prune after Dormancy
To prevent branches from sprouting new, fragile growth in the fall, wait until the leaves have fallen and trees have gone dormant to prune.
This should generally be done anytime between December and February, after trees have gone dormant but before budding begins in spring.
Learn more about overwintering bananas here.
Protect Potted Trees
While it is important to winterize fruit trees that are planted directly in the ground, it’s absolutely critical to protect those that are planted in pots.
Since they are not insulated by the earth, roots in container-grown plants are more susceptible to the cold, and more likely to freeze and die – without a little extra help from you, at least.
There are a few different ways to winterize potted trees. You can store them in a protected spot, insulate them, plant them temporarily in the ground right in their pots, or bring them indoors.
Before determining which method to use, be sure to do the necessary research to understand the species that you are working with:
- How cold hardy is it?
- What climate does it prefer?
- Does it require some sunlight through the winter, or can it overwinter in a dark place?
For instance, many citrus species are tropical and can not be exposed to freezing temperatures at all.
Apples, on the other hand, are hardy and most can tolerate some amount of freezing.
cold hardy species such as fig, cherry, or apricot trees that have a natural period of dormancy.
2. Insulate with Mulch
There are several ways to do this. One method is to surround the trunk with a ring of chicken wire and fill in the frame with straw, shredded leaves, or another type of mulch.
avocados, bananas, or breadfruit – that prefer warm temperatures and sunlight year round.
- Select varieties that are hardy to your climate to reduce the risk of damage.
- Avoid fertilizing past midsummer to discourage new growth late in the season.
- Water deeply in the fall a few times before the first freeze, especially during a dry season.
- Prune while trees are dormant, in late winter or early spring.
Keep Warm and Cozy Through the Winter
Winterizing fruit trees is a no brainer.
And it’s worth taking a few extra minutes in the fall to ensure that these valuable assets to the landscape are well protected until spring.
growing fruit trees in your garden, check out these guides next:
Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!