For many people, the extent of their fall chores is raking up the leaves to avoid smothering the grass. And for mature trees, that works. A mature tree has likely seen anything the winter can throw at it.
But many other people have recently planted trees in their yards, whether for the shade, the fruit, or for the simple thrill of watching it change throughout the season. Young trees can use a little extra TLC to ensure that they thrive.
Young trees need a lot of water, and their roots may not have yet penetrated far enough to access the groundwater. Additionally, if we have a dry winter with little snow or rain, the tree becomes more prone to winterkill. Moisture is essential to any young plants, so watering thoroughly and deeply in late October or early November ensures they will have the resources to overwinter successfully.
Unless your heart is set on putting all the fallen leaves in the composter, trees are an ideal sources for their own mulch. Halfway through the leaf-fall, mow over the leaves and rake them into a generous layer around the base of the tree. You can add some compost to this to introduce the beneficial microbes that will help the mulch break down faster. When the rest of the leaves fall, mow those too and add them to the pile. The compost in the middle will keep the microbes warm and cozy over the winter.
Protect them from Pests
It’s easy to think of trees as being impervious, but young trees are especially vulnerable to the predations of rodents. Pests like mice and voles, looking for food during the winter, are attracted to the tender bark of young trees. They are greedy, and will frequently “girdle” a young tree. Girdling is when the bark is severed all the way around the trunk. A tree transmits nutrients through the trunk, and once it is girdled, it can no longer do so and it dies. You can avoid this by installing vole guards around the trunk of the tree. The guards will typically have to be removed in the spring to avoid having the tree grow through them (and potentially girdle itself.)
If you had any insect or fungi problems this year, now is the time to track down the solution for it, if you haven’t already. There are often simple steps you can take to prevent the problem from recurring next year. However, you will need to consult a certified arborist or gardening expert with specifics about your problem.
Do all this and your trees will be fit as a fiddle when spring returns again!