Portland Winter Tree Care Tips

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As Portland certified arborists, we start looking for signs of spring after the winter holidays have passed. Even in January, smack Winter Tree caredab in the middle of winter, you can find clues that spring is on its way. Buds on many deciduous plants are swelling, storing energy for upcoming blossoms. Witch hazel is blooming, as are some plum trees. And dry days allow gardeners to get outside and plan for the approaching growing season. January is also the perfect time to check for tree damage. Read on to learn tasks Portland homeowners can do to keep their trees healthy this month.

In January, the lack of leaves facilitates tree checkups. To assess tree health, choose a dry day to walk around and examine trees from every angle. Winter conditions can lead to tree damage. Frost cracking damage can occur on the trees’ southwest side, where winter sunlight causes wide temperature swings. Early winter frosts can kill autumn growth; frost ice crystals burst cell walls at the tips of branches. Dry, cold conditions can cause winter drought, in which the tree cannot pull enough moisture from the frozen ground. Rodents desperate for food at this time of year may chew on bark or cones. And of course, branches may break in high winds, ice storms, and snow.

Tree assessment is one of many Portland tree services we offer. Homeowners can conduct a preliminary appraisal of tree health by walking their properties and checking for:

Consistent Bark texture and coloration. Bumps, growths, dark spots, sap trails, and white or yellow tinges can all signify tree sickness. Peeling bark may indicate an underlying dead layer of tissue, and is a sign that you should contact a certified arborist for assistance.
Decay fungus. Have you noticed circular fungi growing outward on your trees? This formation is called a conch; it is a woody mushroom that signifies that there is decay inside the tree. You may also find decay fungi growing on the ground immediately below a tree. In either case, call us. Our arborists can track down the decay and suggest appropriate responses.
Strong Joints. A tree joint is the place where a branch meets the trunk. Keep an eye out for cracks in the joints; weakness in joints often precipitates falling limbs. This is especially key for multiple-stem trees with more than one leader. A narrow angle of connection between adjacent branches, with a crack extending below the joint, is especially indicative of a weak joint. It’s better to take care of any joint weaknesses early, so that you still have the option to thin the tree or add a support cable (rather than cut the whole tree down because it is so unstable and likely to fall in a storm).
Sprouts. If a tree is in distress, it will often put out new sprouts at the trunk base, or from wounds. An arborist should be called in to detect what is stressing a sprouting tree.
Cracks and Splits anywhere in a tree suggest weakness. Moreover, these indentations allow moisture into the tree, which can eventually lead to rot.
Dead branches, which could come crashing down in high winds and otherwise stormy conditions.

Once your assessment is done, consider adding mulch as protection. Create a ring of wood chips, at a depth of 2-4 inches, extending in a two foot radius away from the base of the tree, leaving a slight mulch-free gap around the trunk. Mulch helps prevent soil compaction and root suffocation.

We do not recommend that homeowners attempt to prune trees at this time of year. While we understand your desire to clean up after storms, improper pruning can cause significant damage. As Paul Ries, Oregon Department of Forestry urban forester explains, “It’s often the case that more trees become damaged as a result of improper post-storm activities, than were damaged directly by a storm.” Correct pruning can improve tree health; incorrect pruning breeds tree disease. Contact a professional for any pruning concerns you may have. As trees are dormant in the winter month, pruning can be accomplished effectively, and with minimal damage to surrounding plants (which are also dormant).

January is also part of planting season, although most gardeners will be spending this time planning for the spring. Before tree planting, Portland residents should:

  • Consider space availability. Ensure enough room for the mature tree’s crown and root system.
  • Check for overhead hazards, such as utility lines. Also double check that the tree won’t be growing downward into underground obstructions.
  • Note surrounding soil conditions. Different tree species will prefer sandy, clay-heavy, or well-drained soils.
  • Think about Water Availability. Will there be enough water to keep the tree healthy? Think about how you will water the tree if the spot you’ve chosen doesn’t stay moist naturally.
  • Select Species According to your Goals. What functions should the tree provide? Are you looking for shade, wind protection, or an enchanting scent? Your preferences will be the main factors in tree selection.

If you’re considering planting a new tree, or you’re concerned that your tree may be sick, contact your local Portland arborists for expert advice. Look for experienced, established professionals. Oftentimes, “doorknockers,” who go from door to door peddling tree services, lack knowledge on proper tree care. Such inexperienced, unlicensed, and uninsured Portland tree services may actually cause serious damage to your trees, through “topping” and other careless pruning approaches. Select an established, proven arborist for tree care this January, and your trees will enjoy healthy growth throughout the year.

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