A Blog For Tree & Shrub Owners

Winter Tree Identification Tips

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Maybe you can identify a deciduous tree by its leaves in Spring and Summer, but how can you tell what it is when it doesn’t have them in Fall and Winter? The answer is to turn to the next best clues that are available at this time of year. There are 4 things to check out: Buds, Bark, Fruit and Silhouette.

  • Buds  They grow in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors unique to each species. Also some have fuzz! When looking at the buds on a twig of any given tree, make sure that it is a live twig! if the twig you are examining is dead, the buds will be darker in color (compared to its live buds) or missing altogether. If you can’t reach a twig, (for example on a large tree) look on the ground to see if any have fallen. *
  • Bark  There have recently been some great guides to tree bark published, for example Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast. Some trees have very distinguishable bark and others not so much.
  • Fruit  If you can find its fruit, that is the best clue of ALL to getting you a concrete answer since Taxonomists and Botanists group plants according to their reproductive parts. Again, look on the ground around the base of the tree to see if you can spot any seeds/fruits that may still be lingering from when they fell. Some trees hold on to their seeds for longer than others. *
  • Silhouette  These really work great for identifying older trees and can usually give you an idea of at least its Genus (i.e. Oak, but not necessarily Red Oak). This takes more of a trained eye but sometimes tree ID books have great illustrations to help you.

 

If you still can’t tell by checking these 4 things, just wait till Spring and see what leaves emerge or what flowers/fruit it pops out throughout the course of the year.
*When looking on the ground, make sure that the twig/fruit you examine is from the tree you want to ID and not its neighbors!

 

Do Trees Need Cold Winter Temperatures?

bloomtwigPeople always think of harsh winters causing damage to woody plants but could anything problematic come from a mild winter? Hardy, temperate trees and shrubs are adapted to survive for up to several hundred years over many different winter intensities. If temperatures hold steady above and/or around freezing and gradually change, there may be no effects at all. However, when we get warm temperatures, greater than 50°F and/or fluctuations from very low to very high and vise versa in a short period of time, there can be problems.

High Temps in Winter, like we had in December, causes some plants to prematurely ‘wake up’ from dormancy and pop out spring flowers. There are some consequences for that come spring such as a later, longer and uneven flower display, reduced energy for growth, resisting pests and adverse environmental conditions (such as drought). This also can affect fruit trees that require adequate chilling hours like apples and pears, resulting in less, smaller, and/or misshapen fruits. Lastly, some pests are suppressed by the cold and without low enough temperatures, they have more opportunity to be active.

Wide, Rapid Fluctuations in temperature don’t allow enough time for plants to re-enter dormancy from which they can endure harsh winter conditions. This abruptness can result in stem cracking, sun scald and twig and bud death from starting to grow during a warm period and then quickly freezing.

Dead Branches in your Trees

IMG_3967Dead branches are a natural phenomenon and provide habitat and food for many creatures such as birds, bats, insects and fungi. So why would you have these pruned out?

Well primarily because they are dead, they become dry and brittle and have a tendency to break off in strong winds. Especially the winds of our Nor’easters in the NorthEast. Also dead stubs and branches can be entryways for fungi and bacteria to enter live healthy wood at the attachment points and spread to other parts of the tree.This is especially a concern if the tree has an aggressive or infectious pest attacking it and/or trees nearby. Lastly, on some species, pruning out dead also will greatly enhance a tidy appearance of your trees, giving them a less ragged and messy appearance.

When weighing whether or not to spend the money to have them pruned out, some Q’s to ask yourself are;

  • Is there property or people below that could get hit by these branches? Further, if there is a walkway, how often is it used? e.g. what is the risk level?
  • What is the cost of trimming vs. the cost or repairing a fence or shed?
  • Is the branch of a large enough size to cause damage if it were to break?
  • How important is the health and appearance of this tree to you?
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