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How Trees Protect Themselves During Freezing Temperatures

A lot of people think trees can be damaged or can freeze during the winter months. Or that it is possible for trees to freeze because half of a trees weight is made up of water. However, it is very rare that a tree will actually freeze, succumb to freeze or die and there’s reasons for that.

The tree has self-defense mechanisms built in to keep itself from being affected by a hard freeze and declining. What is meant by a hard freeze is generally trees will freeze when the temperatures are in the ranges of 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit for a duration of time in excess of 24 to 48 hours. That varies depending on the species of trees as different trees have different bark thickness which has a lot to do with how cold they get and if they will freeze.

What does a tree do to prevent itself from freezing?

The main thing that a tree does is protect its living cells from freezing. If the living cells of the tree were to freeze, then the tree would actually freeze, and could die. What happens to prevent this begins with trees going into dormancy, kind of like a hibernation state, during the winter which is when they start to drop their leaves in order to conserve energy. They are stocking up food and water, allowing their cells to be used in the different processes in order to protect themselves from the winters. The water that exists inside the tree moves into spaces between the living cells within the tree. Those living cells are guarded by the water moving out of the living cells. The water then freezes outside the cells, which produces a small amount of heat which aides in keeping the cells from freezing.  Trees also turn the starch inside their cells to sugar when this process all starts, which makes the cells even more cold tolerant.  If a tree were to freeze, those cells would die and potentially damage the tree which could lead to freezing and death. However, this is an extremely rare occurrence.

There are a variety of different things you can do to protect your trees. Especially if you have smaller citrus trees or tropical trees that can be very temperamental to freezing temperatures. Take a trip to your local garden center and ask for what is called a frost cloth. A Frost cloth can be placed over top of your tree. You can then place a heat lamp underneath that cloth. This will trap heat inside that frost cloth generally preventing most plants from freezing. This can be done for any plants or trees to help prevent it freezing or any frost that could cause damage to your plants or trees.

A routine cleanup of your tree’s canopy using a professional tree company is a good practice before the winter. Any older trees that haven’t been trimmed for a while could have a lot of dead wood, which is basically lateral branches that have died off but they’re still remaining in the tree canopy. Have an arborist or a professional tree company come out to clean the canopy of your tree, so during the wintertime it’s less likely for some of those branches to accumulate any ice, put extra weight on them causing the branches to break and fall which could potentially damage something or hurt somebody below them.