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Skaggs: Take care in winter to prepare your trees
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As winter approaches, most of us retreat to the cozy confines of our warm, toasty living rooms. We're content watching football, reading a good book or poring over those last-minute Christmas lists. However, have you thought about how your trees are coping with the winter weather?

Trees stand in the face of cold, drying winds, ice storms and de-icing salts. Food reserves must be carefully conserved for the coming needs of spring. Water continues to escape trees, and hungry wildlife nibble on resting buds and twigs.

Winter also is a time of serious change and reorganization within a tree. Many trees won't survive to grow another spring. But there are some simple things you can do to help your trees survive the winter. A few small investments now can pay off in a large way, yielding a healthy, structurally sound tree.

Ready for winter?

Follow these steps to winterize your trees:

1. Remove or correct structural branch faults and deadwood that are clearly visible.

Make small pruning cuts that minimize any exposure of the central heartwood core.

2. Properly prune branches that will touch the ground when loaded with rain or snow.

Foliage and branches that are in contact with soil can invite pests and problems.

3. Remove damaged and declining twigs, branches and bark.

Don't leave potential pests food and shelter for the winter.

4. Remove new sprouts growing at the tree base or along stems and branches.

Don't over-prune green tissues. Pruning should conserve as many living branches as possible with only a few selective cuts.

5. Spread a thin layer of mulch to blanket the soil.

Cover an area at least as large as the branch spread. Mulch is nature's way of recycling valuable materials, but don't overdo it. Excess mulch can actually do more harm than good.

6. Aerate soils if they're compacted and poorly drained.

It's critical not to damage tree roots living in the soil. Saturated and dense soils suffocate roots and promote root diseases.

7. Conservatively fertilize with any essential element that is in short supply within the soil.

Nitrogen should be used sparingly, especially under large, mature trees and around newly planted trees. Use slow-release fertilizers.

8. Watering may be needed where soils are cool but not frozen and there has been little precipitation.

Winter droughts need treatment with water the same as summer droughts, except it's much easier to overwater in winter.

Trees are investments that require a small amount of care. For the sake of your tree's quality of life and your own, take a few minutes to winterize your tree. For trees, wonderful springs come from a well-tended fall and winter.

Thanks to Kim Coder, University of Georgia Urban Forester.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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