It comes as no surprise to those who live in northern climates that harsh winter weather can be detrimental to trees and shrubs. Newly planted fruit trees are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by snow, ice, cold and pests. Without the thick, protective bark that develops as the tree grows, climatic conditions and ravenous critters will wreak havoc on the soft wood and tender branches. There are a number of steps you can take to keep winter from ruining your fruit trees and help prevent seasonal damage.
Wrap the trunk of the tree in commercial tree wrap, burlap or cardboard. This not only offers the tree an extra layer of insulation from the cold and helps deter pests from eating the bark, but it also provides the tree with shade. During the winter months, the sun sits lower in the horizon, casting its rays directly on the bark or the tree rather than on the leaves and branches. This can cause newly planted trees to develop a sort of sunburn known as sun scalding. Sun scalding can damage or even kill young tree tissues.
Cover the lower portion of the tree with a plastic sleeve if you dislike the idea of wrapping it in softer materials. Plastic can be clipped on and easily removed for seasonal storage, saving you the hassle of purchasing additional supplies the following season. Cover the tree trunk for at least 2 years to allow the tough outer bark to fully develop.
Spread a layer of mulch around the base of the tree. Apply a layer of wood chips or straw 2 to 4 inches deep, extending at least 18 to 24 inches around the base of the tree. For the best results, mulch should be applied in a thin, widely spread layer. This will protect the roots of the tree and keep them warm.
Tie up the branches with old nylon stockings or strips of durable fabric. The additional weight of snow and ice on young tree branches can cause unnatural bending or even breakage. By adding support to the branches, you can help reduce damage to the limbs. Place the strips of material so that approximately 30 percent of the branch extends beyond the fabric strip; type one end to the branch and the other to the trunk of the tree.
Surround the tree with chicken wire fencing to deter predators. Use pieces of 1/4-inch mesh chicken wire or hardware cloth to form cylinders that can be placed around the tree trunk. Cylinders should be designed to stand several inches away from the tree trunk and 18 to 24 inches above the anticipated snow level for your area. Additionally, the cylinders should be pushed at least 3 inches into the soil to protect the roots from burrowing pests.