The freezing temperatures that occur in Ohio and Michigan during with winter months can place stress on our trees and shrubs, especially if we experience multiple freeze and thaw periods. Needles can brown out, bark can split (causing dieback of the inner tissue) and root damage can occur. Most damage will occur on the South or Southwest side of the tree where it receives most of it's sunlight.
In winter, the warmth of the sun can stimulate the inner tissue under the bark to try to continue growing. As the sun sets and the temperatures drop, the recently activated tissue cells under the bark of the tree become damaged by the freezing temperatures (the tree was unable to cease activity prior to the temperature drop). This can cause sunscald and will show up as streaking or sunken areas down the trunk or branch of the tree.
When winter days are above freezing, needles on conifers will naturally transpire water (evaporation through the needles). Since the ground is frozen the root structure is unable to pull water back to the branch and replace the lose of moisture the needle experienced. This will cause browning and die back of needles. If needles begin to brown that does not mean the whole branch is dead. Wait until bud break of the following spring to monitor the tree and see if there is still life in the branches affected. If late summer or fall do not offer adequate moisture, ensure that you give your trees about 6 inches of water before early-September. After the early September watering, wait until your deciduous trees have dropped all their leaves and water one more time before the ground freezes.
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