Tree and Shrub Care: Prevent Salt Damage in Winter with These Tips

Tree and Shrub Care: Prevent Salt Damage in Winter with These Tips

We all know the drill after a snowstorm: apply rock salt to streets, walkways, and other well-traveled surfaces to prevent accidents. However, while this practice preserves our safety, it harms the landscaping. Follow these tips to prevent salt damage on the trees, shrubs, and plants in your yard this season.

Winter Woes for Trees and Shrubs

Salty spray from the road and salt-laden chemicals leaching into the soil affect water and nutrient intake in the root systems of trees and shrubs. Over time, the soil’s quality deteriorates as toxin levels increase. The results range from fewer leaves and blooms to premature leaf drop and twig dieback. Other symptoms include delayed development, early fall foliage color, burnt tips or edges on leaves, and brown needles on evergreens. These symptoms of salt damage differ from season to season and tree or plant variety, but are most visible in the spring. Several winters of salt damage often leads to death of weakened vegetation.

Tips to Help Prevent Salt Damage this Winter

Most damage occurs on vegetation near busy roads and heavily traveled pathways. If you are planting trees or shrubs, take care where you place more delicate species. Choose more salt-tolerant tree or plant varieties when adding greenery to your landscaping. Some trees that are more salt-tolerant include white and red oak, blue spruce, juniper, and paper birch. Avoid planting Douglas fir, dogwood, white pine, pin oak, and red maple too close to areas in need of salting.

To prevent salt damage to already existing vegetation, try using other materials that are less harmful to the environment. Alternative products like calcium magnesium acetate or magnesium chloride may cost more but less is required. Other gritty materials like sand, cinders, and kitty litter can be used in place of salt. Or try mixing these materials with salt to dilute the effects. Whatever you choose to use, apply less than the label states.

After icy weather, rinse away salt that has sprayed on shrubs or trees near roads and walkways. A good watering dilutes salt that has soaked into the soil. Or build barriers around more delicate trees and shrubs using fabric or burlap to help prevent salt damage.

Call Us in Any Season

Symptoms of winter salt damage are often similar to those of pest problems, disease, and drought. If you are uncertain of the cause of deteriorating plant life on your property, call in a landscape professional as soon as possible to help you identify and fix the problem. Contact Call Free Spray Lawn Care at [phone] with any questions on how to prevent salt damage.

Identifying Tree Disease: What Is Oak Wilt?

Identifying Tree Disease: What Is Oak Wilt?

Trees provide our properties with shade, privacy, and natural beauty. These landscape landmarks seem so big and strong, it’s hard to imagine anything harming their health. But trees, like humans, get diseases. For instance, all oak trees are susceptible to a disease called oak wilt, but it’s most fatal for the red oak family, including scarlet and black oaks. Here’s what you need to know about this deadly disease.

How It Works

Oak wilt is a quick-spreading fungal disease. Sap-feeding beetles carry the fungus, Bretziella fagacearum, into the tree via open wounds or pruned areas. Once the tree is infected, one way that the disease spreads to other trees is when fungal spores travel through the sick tree’s root system to healthy trees nearby. The disease ultimately destroys a tree’s vascular system, blocking water and nutrients from traveling throughout the tree. Eventually, it kills the entire tree. The fungus, however, lives on and reproduces, and finds its way to other oaks.

Symptoms of Oak Wilt

Trees infected with the disease may die as quickly as three or four months after the first symptoms appear. Symptoms vary from tree to tree and different species, but the signs all occur in late spring through summer. First, foliage at the top of the tree wilts. The leaves begin to brown around the edges, eventually falling to the ground prematurely. Fungal spores form mats under the bark and cause the bark to split open. Dark streaks in the sapwood are another symptom that’s found by removing the top layer of bark on an infected branch. The symptoms of oak wilt are similar to other tree diseases, so it is wise to get a professional to properly diagnose.


There is no cure for oak wilt, therefore, prevention and early identification is important. Here are some helpful tips.

  • Don’t prune oak trees from mid-April through early October, during the growing season. Fresh pruning wounds attract sap beetles that could potentially be carrying the disease.
  • Immediately paint over open wounds that occur after a storm or branch breakage. This prevents beetles from being drawn to the tree by the smell of sap.
  • Properly clean pruning tools so diseases are not transmitted from one tree or shrub to another.

What to Do About Oak Wilt

Once a tree is infected with oak wilt, removal is inevitable to prevent the spread of infection. Identifying and treating tree disease is difficult and time is of the essence. Call in an expert as soon as possible if you suspect any issues. Contact Free Spray Lawn Care at [phone] and we’ll help you keep your trees and landscaping healthy and beautiful.

When Is the Right Time to Properly Prune Trees?

When Is the Right Time to Properly Prune Trees?

Timing is everything when it comes to taking care of the trees and shrubs in your yard. With spring around the corner, you may think it’s best to wait for the warmer weather to do any pruning. But cutting back branches in spring leaves them vulnerable to diseases, pest infestations, and other damage. The right time to prune trees is in the winter or early spring before growth begins. Here’s why.

The Best Time to Prune Trees

We prune trees to improve their appearances and health and to promote growth. While dead or damaged branches can be cut any time of the year, live branches require extra care. Trees enter a dormant stage during the winter months that’s similar to hibernation. This stage begins after leaves drop in late fall. During dormancy, growth slows and trees conserve energy to survive the harsh weather and lack of nutrients. Now is the best time to prune trees.

Benefits of Pruning During Dormancy

There’s not a lot of yard work to do in the winter. So why not get one chore out of the way so you have more time to enjoy spring and summer activities? Here are some more benefits:

  • Trimming branches during dormancy puts less stress on the tree.
  • A tree’s structure is easier to see without leaf coverage. Seeing its structure helps you better identify which branches need to go.
  • There’s less likelihood of insect infestations or diseases like oak wilt and Dutch elm. During winter, most insects, parasites, and fungi are not active. Wounds heal before the warmer weather arrives, bringing with it pests and pestilence.

Cut Trees with Care

Trimming actively growing trees can result in damage and ruin their ability to bloom to the fullest in the future. However, the exception to the rule is trees that flower in spring. Wait to prune until right after they bloom. Always cut with care and don’t hesitate to call an expert for larger trees and more difficult jobs. Contact Free Spray Lawn Care today at [phone] with any questions about pruning trees and shrubs. We can help your yard look its best this spring.

How to Wrap Trees Against Winter’s Wrath

How to Wrap Trees Against Winter’s Wrath

Cold temperatures, ice, snow, salt, and hungry animals are winter’s worst offenders for damage to your trees and shrubs. Protect the landscaping on your property. Follow these steps to wrap trees, especially if they are young or fragile, and keep them healthy in harsh weather.

Why Wrap Trees in Winter?

Oddly enough, we don’t wrap trees in winter to keep them warm. The wrapping actually protects them from a condition called sunscald. Temperatures in winter fluctuate from day to night, as the sun shines and sets. The delicate layer underneath the bark of a newly planted tree expands and contracts as the temperature changes, causing it to separate and crack. Sometimes, the damage occurs over several seasons. Hardier trees handle extreme temperatures better.

Symptoms of Sunscald

Sunscald is usually found on the south or southwest side of a tree trunk. Dried and cracked, these vertical patches of dead bark are sunken and discolored. Sometimes bark flakes off to expose the layer beneath. Wrap trees that are most susceptible to sunscald such as young, newly planted, or thin-barked trees like maple, birch, walnut, crab apple, and ash. Arborvitae, a type of coniferous tree, also benefits from protection.

How to Wrap Trees

There’s a wide variety of materials used to wrap trees. Plastic, burlap, thick paper, and other materials are sold at most home improvement stores. Some materials made especially for protecting trees have two sides. Keep the lighter side facing out in order to deflect sun and heat.

To wrap, begin at the trunk bottom, burying the end of the material in the soil. Overlap the material as you wrap upward. (Wrapping downward may leave gaps where water or moisture can enter.) Once you reach the lower branches, secure the wrap with tape or twine.

Not only is the tree safe from sunscald, but it’s now better protected from hungry animals and strong winds! Carefully remove the wrap material when the ground warms up in spring.

Call Us

The wrapping process must be done properly, otherwise moisture gets in and causes damage to the tree. If you are uncertain how to wrap trees or which trees would benefit from extra protection, call an expert. Contact Free Spray Lawn Care at [phone] and let us help your landscaping weather any storm.

Save Your Trees from Winter Salt Damage

Save Your Trees from Winter Salt Damage

Every winter we cover our streets and sidewalks with salt to protect ourselves from icy accidents. But the salt, and other chemicals, isn’t good for the trees and plants on your property. Here’s how to prevent winter salt damage.

How Does Salt Damage Trees?

Rock salt and other chemical solutions harm trees and plants two ways. The worst damage happens to trees near the roadside, where they receive constant coatings of salty spray as cars and trucks pass. The other way damage occurs is from the snow plowed up against trees, which has the salt in it. Although snow melt provides slow and steady watering for trees and plant, roots have trouble absorbing the salt-laden water. Too much salt interferes with nutrient intake as well.

Signs of Winter Salt Damage

Most winter salt damage doesn’t appear until spring. Evergreens are the exception, with the tips of the needles turning brown before the winter is out. Look for the following signs when determining if the trees in your yard suffer from salt damage.

  • Branch or twig dieback
  • Discolored leaves, premature leaf drop, or fall foliage color coming too early
  • Less leaves or smaller leaves than usual
  • Damage on side of tree that faces surfaces treated with salt
  • Edges of leaves that are brown or burnt looking

Preventing Winter Salt Damage

Unfortunately, the best way to prevent the damage is not to use salt at all. Try using sand, gravel, cinders, or even kitty litter instead to provide needed traction. There are also salt-free products on the market to help melt ice. If you must use rock salt, try avoiding salt applications late in the season. There’s less time for salt to be diluted before trees start their spring growth. A good watering reduces the concentration of salt in the soil. Be sure to also rinse off leaves and trunks coated in salt spray. Prune back dead twigs and needles on damaged trees to give them a healthy start in spring.

When planting trees close to areas that require salting in winter, use salt-tolerant species like certain kinds of oaks and spruces. Ask a professional for a list of winter-hardy foliage. Call Free Spray Lawn Care at [phone] and let us help your landscaping weather any storm.

Fight Weeds in Fall: Meet the Most Worrisome Winter Annuals

Fight Weeds in Fall: Meet the Most Worrisome Winter Annuals

The war on weeds doesn’t end when summer does. You may think you’ve seen the last of these pesky plants when fall rolls around. But even when you can’t see them, winter annual weeds are working hard underground to take over your turf come spring. Fight weeds in fall to prevent future infestations.

Why Fall?

Most winter annuals germinate in fall, survive through the winter, and mature by spring. They set seed by late spring or early summer and then die off. Because it’s when they are actively growing, fall is the right time to kill them with pre-emergent herbicides and before they set seed.

The Most Common Winter Annual Weeds

Proper identification is the first step to fight weeds. Here are four common winter annual weeds and what they look like.

Henbit. Often confused with purple deadnettle, henbit is a member of the mint family. It features squared off stems with small pink or purple flowers that bloom in early spring.

Purple Deadnettle. Although it looks like henbit, purple deadnettle differs in that it has fuzzy stems and triangular-shaped leaves. Gaps between sets of leaves on henbit expose the stem, while purple deadnettle leaves overlap and mostly cover the stem.

Common chickweed. A low, creeping plant, common chickweed’s light green leaves are oval-shaped with pointed tips. Blooming from early spring through fall, the small white flowers each have five notched petals.

Annual bluegrass. This common weed is well-known for its clumping grass-like appearance that sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise neat lawn. It germinates aggressively during winter, while its overabundant supply of seeds sprout in spring.

How to Fight Weeds in Fall

The best way to fight weeds is to maintain a lush lawn. Weeds can’t compete with thick healthy grass. These invasive plants thrive in thinning areas of your lawn, bare spots, and unhealthy grass. When you fertilize, mow, water, and aerate regularly you create a strong environment where weeds won’t survive. Fall is also a good time to overseed your lawn and fill in weaker areas.

Winter annuals usually have shallow root systems, which makes them good candidates for pulling out by hand. But this is only doable if weeds are few and far between. Make sure to get the entire plant, roots and all, or it grows right back.

For larger infestations, use a pre-emergent herbicide. First, correctly identifying the winter annual in order to choose the right product. Products list the weeds targeted on the labels.

We’ll Be Your Warriors Against Weeds

In order to successfully fight weeds, keep your turf in top shape with a year-round maintenance plan. We can help. Call Free Spray Lawn Care today at [phone]. We offer a unique program to fight weeds and help you achieve a healthy, lush lawn.