That’s a wrap — trees, not presents

Tree wraps/protection, from left, Burlap for bud protection, flexible tree tape and wire buried 2”-3”
Tree wraps/protection, from left, Burlap for bud protection, flexible tree tape and wire buried 2”-3”

You might be looking through ads for various holiday presents by now, and I am sure you see lots of pictures of wrapping paper. But I want you to think about wrapping in a different place: outside. Late November is the time to consider tree wrap.

Notice I didn’t say it is time to wrap trees. No, I want you to evaluate whether you need tree wrap or not. And there are several questions you need to ask yourself, or maybe ask your trees and shrubs.

Tree wrap is meant to be only a temporary application. You apply it in November and remove it by late March. Every year. Why? Just think about what you wore to Thanksgiving dinner this year. Hopefully, you were at home and could go with the ever-expanding give of the waistband of sweatpants.

Or did you have to put on your best, less-forgiving, Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes that don’t have the give that those sweatpants do? And you had to gauge your meal choices, so you didn’t bust a button or split your pants.

Tree wrap is the same. Trees also have expanding waistbands. But that growth seems imperceptibly slow. It seems one day that sapling you planted now has a 6-inch diameter. Many people make the mistake and think tree wrap can be permanent and can grow with the tree. But even if it is flexible, it isn’t meant to stay year-round.

So many times, homeowners find the tree has “eaten” the wrap as the bark envelopes the wrap material. Or the wrap is a rigid PVC or plastic — and its sharp edges are gouging the bark, so avoid those types.

Why do we use tree wrap anyway? It is to protect the trees from winter problems — both from certain weather conditions and hungry wildlife teeth. The keys are to know when to apply and remove and which type of barrier works best for various issues.
The most common winter injury I am contacted about is called sunscald or frost crack. Interestingly, homeowners don’t notice this problem in the winter. They may not even notice it until a few years after it first happens. I like to call it southwest disease, because it typically occurs on the south or west sides of the trees. This is where our predominant sun shines. These longitudinal splits run up and down the tree can range from thin slits to wide open cracks bearing some of the tender wood underneath.

If you have ever poured a hot liquid into a cold glass container and the glass breaks, you have experienced the reason sunscald/frost cracks happen — a warm, expanding liquid in a cold vessel. On sunny, very cold days, the sun shines on the tree, heating it up and then the cold at night causing cracking. Another theory is that the outside of the tree dehydrates, causing the cracking.

Either way, these bark splits, on their own don’t do damage, but at any point, if there is an area that collects water, trouble is brewing. If water collects against the trunk, wood rot can eventually start. So, let’s stop that problem before it starts by putting a sweater on the tree, also known as a tree wrap.

The best tree wrap looks like an ace bandage. It is usually flesh-colored and is a paper tape with the give of crepe paper. This flexible fabric will protect the tree without injuring it. Always start wrapping at the bottom of the tree and wrap upward.

On particularly young trees, you want to wrap up to the branches. The trees most susceptible to sunscald are thin-skinned trees, like fruit trees (edible or ornamental) as well as linden, maple, and honeylocust, dogwood and beech.

Sometimes people ask me about painting the trunks of trees white. That is an older tradition and was an inexpensive way to try to reflect the sun. Some believed it kept insects and wildlife away. But research has shown mixed results.

Speaking of wildlife, that is the other winter menace to our trees. Particularly in winters with long bouts of snow cover, food becomes scare for our critters. And there is nothing more attractive to rabbits, mice and particularly voles, than a nice meal of stripped tree bark.

You may think, they are so small, how much can they eat? They can debark a tree fairly high up. I remember the first time a homeowner sent me a picture of a young fruit tree with its bark chewed 4 feet up. They said they were sure it looked like rabbit chewing, but 4-foot rabbits? I know we grow things big here in the Midwest, but unless you have seen the nature horror movie Night of the Lepus, there are no giant rabbits. But it didn’t take me long to realize, that a regular-sized rabbit on a 3-foot snow drift can chew that high.

Protecting plants from winter wildlife damage can involve both fencing to keep them out and a liquid application of a taste deterrent like Liquid Fence. Be sure the fencing you choose is sturdy, and you bury it 2 to 3 inches underground now, while the soil is still loose.

My choice for fencing around tree trunks and around the edge of bushes is the ol’, trusty, sharp, small-whole hardware cloth. You can find it in any big box or hardware store by the chicken wire.

There are also several taste and wildlife deterrents that can be sprayed on. I prefer Liquid Fence. It is non-toxic. Yes, it is made of rotten eggs but not poisons. Avoid the urban legend of using moth balls. They are poisonous, carcinogenic and to a child or pet, looks like a treat.

Winter tree damage, from left, Rabbit damage to crabapple tree bark, sunscald

 

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