Winter Prep: Young Fruit Trees

It's snow season again, signaling the beginning of winter rest. The snow is falling just before winter holidays, and I am grateful to be able to relax and celebrate, since I no longer need to tend to my trees or garden.

Or do I…

Actually, I haven't yet put up my tree guards. And I thought, this is a good time to remind you all about them, so that voles aren't nibbling on the bark of your young fruit trees over the winter! As the snow piles up, the voles make tunnels through the snow (rather than along the ground) searching for young trees and shrubs. They then eat the inner bark as a tasty winter snack.

Although many trees and shrubs can bounce back from this kind of treatment, fruit trees cannot (or not as well), in part because bark damage sets them up for disease, and in part because, if they do bounce back, it might be by sprouting again from below the graft line. This won't be helpful to you, since it will give you a totally different variety of tree.

We suggest the Fruit Tree Guard found at Hadley Garden Center: a white roll of plastic that's easy to get around low limbs. Make sure it goes all the way to (or into) the ground and stretches up to above the expected snow line. Avoid that moment in the spring when you realize it was just a few inches too short!

We also recommend checking-in on your trees over the winter. Anything nibbling? And once the spring comes, take those tree guards off! It is vital they are not left on after winter, as they will trap moisture and become a breading ground of diseases and pests.

If you would like something that you can leave on all year, try a circle of hardware cloth attached to a stake. Here's a great video showing how.

One thing I have done (phew!) is insulate my fruit trees' roots with coarsely-ground woodchips. This protects the roots from extremely cold temperatures, and will keep the trees from waking up too early in the spring (when they could flower and then lose their flowers to following frosts). If you don't have access to woodchips, you can use straw as an insulator. For young trees, we do not recommend leaves - voles love living under leaves! Just make sure the straw wasn't treated with roundup or another herbicide before using.