Best Practices When Installing Tree Trunk Guards For Winter

Installing tree trunk guards is an important pre-winter step to protect young trees from hungry critters. Here are some best practices to follow.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Installing trunk guards is an important pre-winter step to protect young trees from hungry critters like voles and rabbits. Whether you’re using cloth wraps or sturdier guards made from plastic or metal mesh, wrapping a protective layer around delicate young tree trunks will help ensure your trees don’t get girdled during winter.

If you have only one or two young trees that need protecting, installing trunk guards won’t take long. But if you’ve planted an orchard with a dozen or two young fruit trees, it’s a job that requires planning and a meaningful time commitment. (And if you have four dozen young fruit trees, like I do, you had better commit a couple of long afternoons to the job.)

After six years of installing trunk guards around my trees, I’ve learned a thing or three about pitfalls to avoid. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when installing trunk guards ahead of winter.

Don’t Wrap Your Trees Too Early

You might be tempted to get a head start on winter and install trunk guards in late summer or early fall. This can be a fine approach with some types of trunk guards (if they leave room for the trunk to grow). But if you’re wrapping anything tightly around trunks, resist the temptation to start early.

You want to wrap the trees when they’re dormant. If the tree is still growing and the trunk tries to expand while wrapped in cloth, you’ll damage the bark.

For the same reason, you’ll want to remove any tight guards in late winter or early spring, before the trees wake up.

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Wrap Before It’s Unpleasantly Cold

The above advice notwithstanding, for your own comfort you’ll want to start getting your trees protected before warm weather has completely deserted your region. I remember a year when I waited too long to tackle the project and wound up installing tree trunk guards on a dreary winter day when the high temperature was in the low 30s.  I was struggling to use waterproof electrical tape while wearing bulky winter gloves … definitely not so easy.

Wait until the trees are heading into dormancy, but pick a day that’s warm enough so you can work without bulky gloves and enjoy the process.

Make Sure You Have Enough Supplies

This is an important step, because you don’t want to start installing trunk guards on the perfect day and realize too late that you’re short of supplies. One year, I ran out of my preferred electrical tape and had to switch and use regular packaging tape instead. It turned out to be insufficiently waterproof, and by the time spring rolled around my trees were shedding their trunk guards.

Consider also that your trees will grow each year. So even if you had a sufficient quantity of suitably-sized guards/wraps last year, that might not be the case this year. I use corrugated plastic guards that measure 2 feet tall by 8 inches wide, and when my trees were young a single guard would wrap comfortably around each trunk. But now that the trees are older, their trunks are thicker and I have to tape two guards together to wrap around a single trunk.

Keep these three tips in mind, and the trunks of your young trees will be thoroughly guarded before you know it.

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