Preparing Woody Trees and Shrubs for Winter

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Aaron Steil
Consumer Horticulture Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


How should I prepare woody trees and shrubs for winter?


Wrap Trunks of Young Trees

During the winter months when food is scarce, rabbits and other rodents will chew and strip bark from woody plants. Protecting woody trees and shrubs, especially young plants, from browsing is important. Wrap young trees at least 36” up the trunk with tree wrap in late fall and remove the protection in spring. Adding tree wrap has the added benefit of protecting young trees from sun scald which can cause thin bark to split and crack on sunny winter days.

Install Fencing to Prevent Animal Damage

Place cages or stakes around young trees to prevent browsing and antler rubbing from deer. Stakes and fencing must be at least four feet tall to prevent antler rubbing. Cages around shrubs can also prevent damage from rabbits and rodents. Use rebar posts and 36” tall chicken wire pinned to ground when needed. Make sure fencing is at least three feet tall as animals can get over shorter fencing if there is deep snow cover.

Do Not Prune in Fall

While it may seem tempting, do not prune woody trees and shrubs in the fall. Pruning encourages new growth and when done in the fall, the new growth that develops will not be well hardened-off for winter leading to more potential for winter damage. The best time of year to prune is late winter and early spring (February through March in Iowa). Tender plants like roses or butterfly bush will have die-back during the winter. During mild winters, that dieback will be less severe so leaving all wood in place allows for more of the plant to potentially make it through the winter and for you to start with a larger plant the following spring. Wait until new growth begins to emerge in spring and prune these tender woody plants back to live tissue.

Date of Publication: 
November, 2022