Lots of tree planting happened in the Fox Valley this past fall. The replanting has been pushed by the continuing tree population decline from the Emerald Ash borer, a boring insect that has now killed millions of ash trees in the Midwest. The other major reason homeowners have replanted trees has been the long term decline of our landscape and shade trees from the drought of 2012 and terrible winter of 2013/2014. Plant diseases and other insects attacking many plants have caused additional plant loses.
Whatever the reason for your landscape, young ornamental and shade trees need some winter weather trunk protection and from those rabbits, voles and mice too. To a lessor extend protection from deer is also a consideration.
Winter protection can include making sure your newly planted trees are well watered and right now Mother Nature has done a pretty good job so far this late fall and early winter. Trees are alive around the outside of the trunk with a layer of cells called cambium. Cambium cells produce the Xylem and Phloem cells which allow for the movement of food and water up and down within the plant. If that is damaged from the weather or rodents gnawing, the tree becomes damaged.
The winter sun can cause sun scald and the cold temperatures can cause frost cracks. These two conditions can be prevented by wrapping the trunk from the soil line up to the first branches on the trunk. This can be done using commercially available tree wraps. The idea is not to keep the trunk warm, but to allow the trunk to get cold and stay cold. Strong direct sunlight to a trunk will cause the sun scald damaging cells and the daily freezing and thawing action will produce the frost or freeze cracks. Frost cracks usually start from the base of the tree and move upwards. Besides the rolls of wrap, there are also a number of plastic wraps and tubing available. In both cases they are normally caused on the south, southwest and west sides of the tree trunks. These need to be on the trunks before the several months of winter are here, so while we can get out there, these products can easily be put on.
On the rodent side of things, those fiber and plastic wraps will prevent damage. Additional protection from the rodents can be in the form of rabbit and chicken wire fencing. If you experience lots of baby rabbits in your home landscape, the better bet is the rabbit fencing that will prevent young rabbits from getting through. For those landscapes that have deer feeding, there is deer fencing made from plastic, similar to what we see our holiday trees wrapped in, that goes around our evergreen trees. For those deciduous trees, putting up a fence high enough and far enough away to prevent deer from reaching over and in is what is required.
To stop those voles and field mice, make sure you pull back any mulch away from the trunk and out several inches. Field mice and voles do not like to be out in the open and targets for predators.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.