Basham trees

This area’s signature beauty is owed much to native trees; homeowners can help their trees with some winter care.

There are many reasons to care for the trees on your property, especially during the winter months.

Trees are some of the oldest and most important organisms on this planet. They have belched out so much oxygen over the years that they changed the composition of our atmosphere.

The haze and color surrounding the Blue Ridge Mountains is a good example of just how much trees exhale – the mountains owe much of their signature hue to the fact that they are so heavily forested.

Trees possess an incredible amount of variety. There are some that engage in chemical warfare such as the sassafras and black walnut, warding off pests, diseases and other plants by poisoning the soil they live in. There are even trees in South America that can move a few centimeters each day.

Studies have shown that trees and other plants actually communicate with each other through chemical signaling. This helps give them an early warning sign for danger heading their way; however, we have only scratched the surface of the complicated networks behind plant communication.

For all we know, the trees in our back yards could be discussing the newest episodes of “Stranger Things.”

The winter can be a tough time for trees due to freezing temperatures, pest damage and harsh winds. There are a few simple things you can do on your property to give your trees the best winter possible.

Large, established trees will require little to no care, but smaller and newly planted trees are especially susceptible to damage.

Place some mulch under your trees if needed (one to two inches will be enough to insulate roots from freezing temperatures). Make sure you do not pile mulch around the base of the tree, as this could cause problems. Instead, spread the mulch in an even layer that avoids contact with the tree.

Trees with a small diameter, especially those near the edges of clearings, are very attractive to rowdy bucks as they mark their territory over the fall and winter seasons. Bucks rub trees with their antlers and remove large portions of branches and bark. This can be devastating to a tree, as it destroys the cambium layer containing the system that brings nutrients from root to leaf.

Wrapping the bottom four to five feet of small trees with corrugated plastic wrapping or heavy duty deer fence can help.

Deer can get confused by multiple layers of fencing. For problem areas, a double layer of fencing a few inches apart can work well at keeping deer at bay.

Deer also dislike stepping through piles of sticks. Native Americans were known to surround trees with rings of stick piles in order to fend them off.

Take a walk around your property and keep a keen eye out for any dead or weird looking limbs in your trees, paying special attention to those around houses or roads. These wonky limbs will be the first to go in a winter storm. Consider having them removed in the fall before they become a real hazard later on.

The fall and winter are ideal times for pruning your trees, so perhaps start thinking about tidying up a few of those unruly masses your neighbors keep dropping hints about.

Brannen Basham is a writer and horticulturist. Together with his wife, Jill Jacobs, he owns Spriggly’s Beescaping, focused on nature education and habitat restoration. He recently published his first book, “A Guide to the Wonderful World Around Us: Notes on Nature.” For more information visit www.sprigglys.com.