2024 WSIB Health and Safety Excellence Program Badge

Fall Tree & Shrub Health Update 2023

Yellow Rumped Warbler in Spring - Vijayalakshmi-Nidugondi
Yellow Rumped Warbler in Spring - Vijayalakshmi-Nidugondi

It sure hasn’t been much of a winter and many tree lovers are expecting an early spring this year.  According to Environment Canada, Ontario has been experiencing above-average temperatures and below-average snowfall this past winter.  These climate trends impact the plants, insects and other animals living in the environment.  In this article, we will explain how weather impacts your beautiful trees and how you can help support them this spring.

Evergreens and Winter Desiccation

Evergreens are vulnerable to milder conditions in winter.  Plants make food through photosynthesis (opening their leaf pores to capture atmospheric CO2 and using light energy to convert CO2 and water to sugar). Because evergreens retain their foliage all year round, mild, sunny afternoon conditions can sometimes signal the opening of their leaf pores, even in winter. Instead of a boost in sugar production, the low light levels in winter are inadequate to provide enough light energy, and the leaves end up losing large stores of water during the process. 

Winter Desiccation On a Spruce Tree
Winter desiccation is most visible on the afternoon sun side of the tree

This causes the evergreen leaves to dry out and turn brown, especially on the southwest side of the tree.  In horticulture, we refer to this type of injury as “winter desiccation” and in the landscape, it is easy to find on young evergreen trees and evergreen groundcovers that have afternoon sun exposure.  Thankfully, it is just the leaves that are killed.  Stems and buds for this year’s growth remain alive and will eventually grow out to fill in the areas where evergreen foliage has been killed.  In high visual locations, desiccated twigs can be pruned out, leaving more desirable foliage and space for nearby twigs to grow into. 


Deciduous Trees

Sugar Maple Bud
Sugar Maple Bud – Source: nhgardensolutions.wordpress.com

When they are still dormant in late winter, deciduous trees like maples and birch can sense the coming of spring through their buds.  Tightly capped buds sense the increasing light intensity through cells called “photoreceptors”.  These light sensitive cells then send a hormone signal to roots, stems and branches to wake up.  The signal causes the conversion of carbon stores from last year’s growing season to be liberated in the form of sugars.  The liberated sugars in the root system causes roots to easily draw water in from the soil.  Sugars dissolve into the water, forming large columns of sap that rise up to feed the buds that will become this season’s shoots and leaves.

This upward flow of sap continues for a few weeks until leaves emerge and start making their own sugars, sending them back down to the root system in reciprocity. Pruning maple trees in early spring will often result in noticeable sap drippings below each cut.  Although the sap looks unsightly, it does not negatively impact tree health.

Annual Tree Inspections

Annual Tree InspectionsIt’s a good idea to inspect your trees to see how they faired from the winter storms. Many species of trees experience periodic branch dieback and dieback from rapid drops in temperature, especially Norway maples (Acer platanoides). Early spring is the perfect time to take a look up into the canopy to look for dead branches, deadwood that is hung up and a hazard to the users of the property.

Meteorologists like Geoff Coulson at Environment and Climate Change Canada said the mild 2024 winter conditions were largely driven by El Niño, meaning warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve had mild winters before, but not for this many days in the winter season.  While milder winter temperatures can be a little “easier” on trees, they may leaf out earlier than usual, putting them at greater risk of frost damage in May. 

Frost Damage

Spruce Damaged by Late Frost in May
Spruce damaged by a late frost event after leaf emergence in May)

As a property owner, you can prevent frost damage by watching the weather forecast and covering any tender foliage with plastic tarps or cloth in the evening.  For larger trees, you can help reduce frost damage to newly emerged leaves by sprinkling the leaves with water at dusk, before the temperatures drop down below freezing.  As the temperatures drop below 0C, the water on the surface of the new leaves will start to freeze. As the water changes from a liquid to a solid, the state change liberates heat, forming a layer of thermal protection against the tender leaves. 

Spring Tree and Shrub Pests

Japanese Beetle Feeding on Birch Leaves - Jen Llewellyn
Japanese beetle adult feeding on birch leaves – Jen Llewellyn

Because the winter was so mild, it is more than likely that overwintering insect pests will be more successful and therefore their numbers may be even higher this year.  A good example is the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica), a introduced pest that loves to feed on the foliage and flowers of roses, fruit trees, birch and elms among others.  Japanese beetles overwinter as small white grubs in the soil, feeding quietly on the roots of grasses.  Biological insecticides are available for management of the adults and the grub stage.  Pheromone traps can be effective but require a soapy water repository in the bottom of the trap to ensure that trapped beetles do not make their way back out.  Some horticulturalists caution that the pheromone traps are a little too attractive, leading gardeners to choose floral lures instead

Feeding Your Trees - Deep Root Fertilizer

Healthy Tree Thriving - Rico Van de Voorde
Healthy Tree Thriving – Rico Van de Voorde

One of the best things you can do to help your trees is to give them the nutrients they need help accelerate their recovery and their ability to replace those lost resources. Our custom formulation of slow-release fertilizer is suspended in a liquid solution and injected below the surface of the soil, directly into the root zone, where it can be absorbed by actively growing roots. Surface applied fertilizers can lead to runoff and lost nutrients in the environment. Our custom formulated Deep Root Fertilizer is specially formulated for our customers trees and shrubs based on soil and foliar testing lab results from your soils and plants. At Beautiful Trees, our fertilizer is blended with required nutrients and low levels of phosphorus to keep your plants healthy while reducing negative impacts on our environment. We’ve even added extra minerals that are known to be deficient in southern Ontario soils

Breeding Bird Surveys

Baby Robins in Spring - Fas Khan
Baby Robins in Spring – Fas Khan

Spring is also a time of new beginnings for the many animals that share our natural world.  If you are thinking of removing a tree, it is advisable to first carry out a breeding bird survey to determine if any birds are using the plant to raise their young.  Acquiring a breeding bird survey by a Qualified Biologist will make sure the proper protocol is followed, ensuring your project gets started quickly, and Canada’s native migratory birds remain safe. Our qualified biologists can perform time-sensitive, breeding bird surveys to help protect breeding birds for your project.

Frost Damage

Karl Fedrickson
Karl Fedrickson

At Beautiful trees Inc., our experienced Arborists are here to help you with all of your tree and shrub care needs.  We also provide tree permits, arborist reports, tree protection plans, tree inventories and more to help support your landscape and development projects. 

From all of us at Beautiful Trees Inc., we wish you a wonderful spring with all of the joys that this season has to offer.

Contact Us Today

Call us today to book your free on-site estimate to protect and inspect your beautiful trees and shrubs this fall.

Spring Tree & Shrub Health Update 2024

Contact Us Today

Contact Us Today for Quality, Professional, and Experienced Tree care. Where you and your green space are our number one priority.

Trees in Urban Environment
10 Beautiful Trees for Ontario Landscapes

In this article we discuss 10 beautiful trees that you can grow in your Ontario landscape. All these beautiful trees have been selected for their ability to grow in typical Ontario urban soils and climate conditions. They have also been selected for their tolerance to common pests and diseases, their availability, and acceptability as compensation trees for cities (such as Toronto).

Read More »
Fall Tree & Shrub Health Update 2023

During the transition to autumn, implementing certain management practices can provide support for our landscape plants and tree maintenance, as the days become shorter and cooler. Here’s our annual Fall Tree Update to help guide you in supporting your trees and shrubs throughout fall and winter 2023.

Read More »
Oak Wilt on Leaves
Prevention and Treatment of Oak Wilt

Oak Wilt is a serious disease that can have devastating effects on oak populations. However, with regular inspections and proper management, it is possible to protect our valuable oak resources.

Read More »
ISA Certified Arborist Badge
ASCA Badge