How to Tell if Your Trees Are Healthy in Winter

While trees may look dead throughout the cold months of winter, they’re still very much alive. They simply go dormant during the cold season. Since they’ve lost all their leaves, it’s a great time to inspect their health.

How do you assess winter tree health? There are some common signs to look out for. Here’s a closer look at how to tell if your trees are healthy in winter.

Cold stress

Cold temperatures take a toll on the health of trees. When conditions change between daytime heat and nighttime freezing, it causes stress between the outer bark and inner wood of mature trees. Large temperature variations can lead to cracks called frost cracking or southwest injury, which refers to the side of the tree that receives the most sunlight.

You can prevent frost cracking by investing in special cold-weather tree blankets. They wrap the tree’s bark to prevent areas of cracking and damage, keeping mature trees healthy during a long, cold winter.

Winter drought

Evergreen trees in particular are susceptible to the harmful effects of winter drought. This occurs when a tree loses water and can’t absorb more from the frozen ground below. Look for winter drought as springtime approaches because the ground is usually completely frozen by that time. As the sun starts warming the tree, the tree becomes stressed as it looks for water to catalyze new growth.

There’s no clear-cut solution for combatting winter drought, but you can reduce the chance of problems occurring by spreading a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree. A high-quality mulch will not only reduce moisture loss and runoff, but it will also insulate the roots and protect them from freezing temperatures.


During the winter, trees become a target for rodents searching for food. Mice and rabbits can be particularly damaging, as they chew on the bark and potentially girdle trees. Guard against mice by leaving space between your layer of insulating mulch and the tree trunk. Wire mesh enclosures are very effective at keeping rabbits away. Some arborists also recommend paint-on repellents to prevent rodents and other animals from using your trees as a food source throughout the cold winter.

Broken branches

One of the easiest ways to tell if your trees are healthy in winter is by inspecting the condition of the branches. Deciduous trees are especially vulnerable to branch breakage in the winter since the wood becomes more brittle. On top of reduced strength, ice and snow accumulation puts extra stress on the branches, leading to cracking.

Proper tree maintenance is the best way to prevent branch breakage. Make sure you have weak, vulnerable branches pruned and trimmed by a professional arborist—it makes a big difference in preserving the health of the tree.

Winter tree health is important. If you’re wondering whether you have dead or decaying trees at your property, contact Rocky Mountain Tree Service today. We’ll help you determine a plan of action to preserve your trees and landscaping throughout the winter months.