Young, Thin-barked Trees Need Sun Protection in Winter Months

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
November 08, 2016

Newly planted and young, thin-barked trees need protection during the winter months from the sun, of all things.

Young trees such as honey locusts, fruit trees, ashes, oaks, maples, lindens, and willows can be harmed by sunscald and bark cracks.

Sunscald normally develops on the south or southwest side of the tree during late winter because sunny, warm days can heat the bark to relatively high temperatures. K-State Research and Extension Riley County horticulture agent, Gregg Eyestone, says this warming can cause a loss of cold hardiness of the bark tissue.

“What you notice on the bark of the tree is a sunken location, that the cells have been killed off,” said Eyestone.  “And in some cases, you start to see some rotting and fungal spores coming out of that. And, that tree’s probably in decline – permanent decline – and so we want to try to and avoid that if we can.”

Research done in Georgia has shown that the southwest side of the trunk of a peach tree can be 40 degrees warmer than shaded bark. A light-colored plastic tree wrap from the ground to the start of the branches will help protect young trees.

“Two to three years of winter protection and you may have it built up and established that you don’t need to do that anymore,” Eyestone said. “Doesn’t hurt.

“I also like my tree wrap for wildlife management,” he added.  “Rabbits or voles…anything that might chew on the bark, looking for food, this wrap will also protect it from that situation.”

If there are trees in your home landscape that would benefit from a tree wrap, Eyestone says now is a good time to put them on.

“Erratic weather is what causes this and you can’t predict that,” he said.  “And that may happen before Thanksgiving, you don’t know, so sooner’s better than later.”

Tree wraps should be removed in March. Failure to remove them can be detrimental to the tree. Trees often recover from sunscald but Eyestone says it takes TLC – especially watering during dry weather.

More information on protecting trees from sunscald is available at the McPherson County’s Extension office at 620-241-1523.