Tips For Installing Winter Tree Guards

Installing tree guards is an important step to protect the trunks of your trees from winter girdling by hungry critters. Here are tips to get you started.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Winter is rapidly approaching on my northern Wisconsin farm, which means it’s time to start prepping my young fruit trees for the coldest months of the year. While they’re busy dropping their leaves and heading into winter slumber, I’m busy strengthening their protective perimeter deer fence and—just as importantly—wrapping their delicate trunks with tree guards.

Installing tree guards is an important step to protect the trunks of your trees from winter girdling by hungry critters—rabbits, mice, voles, etc. It’s disappointing to see a beautiful tree you’ve carefully tended emerge from winter with potentially fatal bark damage. To avoid this upsetting possibility, installing tree guards on young fruit trees is a high priority on my annual winter prep checklist.

Tree guards come in a wide variety of styles and materials, and some are more suitable for specific needs than others. But for the purpose of protecting in winter (when the trees are dormant and not adding girth to their trunks), I’ve found that a combination of corrugated plastic guards and versatile cloth wraps serve my needs perfectly.

Read more: Are you ready for winter? This cold-weather checklist will help you prepare!

Corrugated Plastic

Corrugated plastic guards are effective for guarding branchless portions of the lower trunk. They are tough and durable—no critter is going to chew through the plastic, at least not easily!

They’re also fast and simple to install. This is useful if you’re wrapping dozens of trees on the last nice day before a giant snowstorm. Been there, done that.

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Cloth Wraps

Cloth wraps might not present quite as formidable a barrier against hungry critters. But they’re useful for wrapping portions of the trunk from which branches are growing.

The cloth wraps I use come on rolls and measure about 3 inches in width. Io installing them requires wrapping the cloth in overlapping spirals up and around the trunk. This means you can leave small gaps in the wrap coverage to let branches through, allowing you to protect most of the trunk while still accommodating branches.

For young trees with branches very low to the ground, this is a helpful alternative to corrugated plastic guards.

It’s also possible to wrap curving branches with cloth wraps. Ever since one of my young apple trees suffered sunscald on the south sides of its branches one winter, I’ve taken to wrapping the lower portions of its main branches with white cloth.

I do this in order to reflect sunlight and protect the delicate bark. So far, I’ve been happy with the results—no more sunscald!

Read more: Is it too early to start prepping for winter? No—and here’s why.

Security Concerns

But whether you use corrugated plastic or cloth guards on your tree trunks, you’ll need some way to secure them in place. For this purpose, I’ve taken to using black electrical tape. It seems to hold its stickiness well over the course of winter.

Everyday packaging tape, I’ve discovered, is more likely to let loose when faced with winter weather.

Even short strips of black electrical tape tend to stay in place when adhered to plastic. To be on the safe side, though, I wrap long strips all the way around the tree guards so the tape can seal back over itself. This forms a complete loop that rarely gives way.

I’m happy to say my fruit trees are already wrapped for the coming winter. I’m confident my efforts will protect them from hungry critters. Now I’m just counting down the days until spring blossoms emerge!

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