Preparing Newly Planted Trees for an Iowa Winter

We’ve been lucky to have warmer weather so far this winter, but with colder temperatures in the forecast this week, take a few minutes to ensure newly planted trees are prepared for the rigors of an Iowa winter!

By Tom Hughes
of Hughes Nursery & Landscaping


A few simple chores now will set the course for a strong flush of woody growth in spring that will lead to decades of shade and shelter in your landscape. Here are four key winter-prep chores we practice at our nursery, Hughes Nursery and Landscaping, and in our home landscapes.


Adequate moisture is essential for young trees to survive cold, dry winter months. Water newly planted trees deeply every week (don’t water multiple times per week, just deeply once a week) until the ground freezes. When watering trees, aim to deliver a large quantity of water infrequently. Deep watering spurs the tree to develop a strong root system. 

The quantity of water is dependent on the size of your newly planted trees. Give bareroot trees about 5 gallons of water once a week. Plan to deliver 15 to 20 gallons of water to balled-and-burlapped trees. Finally, container grown trees—trees that were transplanted into your landscape from a pot—should receive about the same amount as the size of the pot. For example, a maple grown transplanted from a 5-gallon container will do well to receive 5 gallons of water weekly. 

One final note on watering: consider soil type. If your tree is growing in sandy soil, increase the volume of water by 50-percent to ensure enough moisture is available to plant roots. If the soil around the tree is slow-draining clay, reduce the volume of water by 25-percent so as not overwater the tree. 


Just as we appreciate a warm jacket in winter, trees appreciate a layer 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded hardwood mulch. Mulch has two important functions in winter. A layer of shredded bark reduces soil moisture loss from drying winter winds. It also insulates the tree’s root zone, mitigating soil temperatures swings which makes for a healthy root zone.   

Spread a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of shredded hardwood mulch around the base of the tree in a 3- to 5-foot diameter circle. Don’t let the mulch touch the tree truck as it can cause rot. 

Trunk wrap

Some trees, such as maples, and other species with soft or thin bark, benefit from a paper trunk wrap in winter. Their tender bark is susceptible to sun scald or sun burn as the sun reflects off of surrounding snow. Wrap the trunks of maples with paper tree wrap, available at your local garden center, for about 3 years after planting.

Animal control

Deer, rabbits, and mice can damage young trees in winter. Protect trees from deer by wrapping the trunk with a white plastic drain tile, chicken wire, or make a barrier around the trunk using 3 to 5 steel fence posts. Keep rabbits and rodents at bay by enclosing the tree trunk with hardware cloth. Be sure the hardware cloth enclosure is at least 3 feet tall.

derecho, tree care, Trees, winter tree
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