When it comes to winter yard maintenance, a snow shovel most likely comes to mind before pruning equipment. Yet winter is the perfect time to care for your trees. Preparing your landscape for the snow is especially prudent in light of the devastation caused by 2011's early snowstorms.
During the winter, deciduous trees are bare. With the entire branch structure visible, it becomes much easier to identify weak branch connections, cracks in limbs, inferior crossing limbs and dead wood. Pruning to remove these branches in winter can avoid serious future damage while improving the health and strength of your trees. The cold climate also means there are fewer insects or disease pathogens to affect the newly trimmed areas.
A tree’s survival may depend on the care you give it before a storm strikes. High winds, heavy ice and snow can cause a great deal of strain. Having trees inspected before the worst weather hits can pinpoint potential problem areas and allow you the opportunity to prevent costly and potentially dangerous property damage.
Branches that hang close to your house, roof, driveway or power lines should be cleaned up. Dead and decaying branches, particularly those at the top or ends of a tree’s canopy, are also potential hazards. Soil that’s newly raised or lifted around the trunk can indicate an unsound root system – one that may give way in severe weather. Another sign of shifting is if the canopies of trees overlap each other, which wouldn’t happen naturally.
Oozing sap, stains or sawdust-like residue could mean disease or insects. Cracks, hollow or rotted areas should also be addressed; mushroom conks growing on or near the base of the tree are another warning sign or a weakened tree.
A well-maintained landscape can increase your property value so it makes sense to hire a professional arborist to care for your trees. Look for one who is certified by a professional organization such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or by your state. Request to see proof of insurance – hiring someone uninsured could leave you liable for his or her mistakes. And whatever you do, never attempt dangerous tree work on your own.
Ken Almstead is chief executive officer of Almstead Tree and Shrub Care and a licensed arborist. His company services all of Westchester County.