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If you have patio trees or any small trees that you are worried won’t survive the winter that this post is for you. Potted trees really can survive all year round.
Potted trees make wonderful accents for the patio and may be the only trees many city dwellers can have.
Most trees need a good amount of sunshine during the spring and summer growing season and grow best outside, but many potted trees have other needs during the winter months. These needs vary depending on natural climate conditions where the species originated.
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Can potted trees survive winter?
For tropical trees like citrus or palm, the most care should be taken. A light frost can damage and a freeze can kill many of these species. Even near-freezing air temperatures, coupled with exposure to the clear night sky, can damage leaves through evaporative cooling and radiation.
Covering these plants during marginal times with a blanket or plastic sheeting can prevent damage. But for cold winters, these plants must be kept inside with good light and conditions suitable for growing. Before bringing inside, these plants should be kept in a shady place to help slow growth for a few days.
Before setting these trees back outside in sunshine after prolonged indoor climates, they need to be hardened off, or conditioned, to the outdoors by providing shade and protection from the wind for several days.
Which trees can survive in Winter?
Deciduous trees like maple and oak from temperate climes need a winter to perform well. Many flowering trees like apple, dogwood and redbud need the cold resting period of a winter followed by warming or greater day length to trigger the spring flowers.
Taking these trees into heated spaces for the winter may prevent them from flowering in the spring and producing fruit. Most deciduous trees can take the winter cold on their above-ground portions, but when potted, the roots may need more protection.
Freezing temperatures can crack clay pots, and as the soil freezes it can displace or heave the root ball, damaging roots in the process.
Nature evolved these trees to survive a winter, but with the roots in the ground. If possible, place these potted trees in the ground for winter. Dig a hole before the ground freezes solid and place the pot in the ground. A good layer of mulch will also help protect roots.
Heeling in can help prevent freeze damage to above-ground portions. This is placing the pot in a trench and laying the plant near horizontal and covering the pot or root ball with soil.
It keeps the tree closer to the ground and out of the wind. The trees can then be covered with loose mulch or a tarp during extreme cold.
If placing trees in the ground is not possible, then grouping pots in a sunny, protected location can help moderate temperatures during the winter. Insulating with mulch or other techniques can help reduce damage and losses from cold weather.
Potted trees can also be kept in an unheated garage or shed for the winter. Deciduous trees need no light and only small amounts of water during the winter.
Conifers like spruce and pine from cold temperate and polar regions need protection from too much warmth during winters. Changes from cold to warm to cold that happen in sunny protected areas can fool these trees into springtime metabolism at the wrong time or fail to trigger winter dormancy.
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These species do well on the north side of structures with roots protected from excessive cold.
Knowing a tree’s natural habitat and trying to emulate it will generally give the best growth results. Protecting roots and pots from excessive cold while allowing enough of a winter to trigger dormancy are the key goals for wintering temperate climate trees.
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