Conifer Winter Tree Care

Colorado Blue Spruce in Winter

Q: Robert, since winter is quickly approaching can you give readers any general advice about winter tree care focusing on caring for conifers in winter?

The main problem we hear about in winter seems to be bent or broken limbs or trunks on young conifers (pine, evergreens, spruces…).  Don’t give up on these young plants.  As soon as possible after snow or ice bends them down, use rope, strong cord or wire to secure them upright to stakes or sturdy parts of the tree.  Spring growth will usually provide the strength needed to maintain the upright position.  At some point during the first or second summer, you should be able to remove the support system.

Broken or dead limbs should be pruned with a saw or sharp shears.  Prune back to the trunk or a healthy limb that is at least 1/3 the diameter of the removed limb.  Be sure to make careful pruning cuts just outside the raised areas called bark ridges and branch collars.

 Winter Pine Tree Care General suggestions are:                

(1) Don’t worry about color changes in winter.  This is usually normal, with the deeper green returning in summer. 

(2) Don’t dump excess snow on young trees, spreading junipers or others in the landscape.  In fact, remove the weight of snow when practical. 

(3)  Keep de-icing salt away from your conifers. 

(4) Use fallen pine needles for mulch.  This will contribute to the acidic soil pH preferred by most conifers and it is an attractive and inexpensive way to provide the many benefits of mulch.

For more information about specific in your area please contact your local County Cooperative Extension Service.

Robert Smith

Is a Member Service Specialist and Certified Arborist at the Arbor Day Foundation. In addition to his role at the Foundation he is the President of the Nebraska Arborist Assocation. Learn more about "Tree Care" at


  1. WE recently purchased a home on a 10 acre spread of pines, spruce and hardwoods (predominantly pines). We have no idea how to care for these trees. The pines are about 12 years old and some of the hardwoods are 50 or more years old. We have gotten about 10 books and have begun to identify different types of trees, but now we have so many questions. For instance; this fall the lower level branches of most of the red pines and some of the white pines have turned brown. Is this a natural occurrance or did we need to do something to maintain them??? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

  2. Depending on the spacing some of the lower limbs on the conifers may be shaded out and will eventually shed lower limbs just as they do in a woodland setting. Keep in mind that spruce and pine will routinely shed needles which might account for the browning needles.

    Here is a link to help you find a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters of America in your area for advice.

    You might enjoy reading a book written by Dr. Jim Fazio, editor of the Arbor Day newsletter. The book is entitled, The Woodland Steward: A Practical Guide to the Management of Small Private Forests. While this book is out of print I checked and found a few copies for sale on

    Another good book to read would be Bernd Heinrich’s, The Trees in My Forest, just to gain an appreciation of the woods that you are caring for. It is one of my favorites.

    Thanks for contributing to the blog and for caring about trees.

  3. What about the little conifer sprigs newly planted in the spring? Should they be covered during their first winter?

  4. Ben;

    Thanks so much for your expert advice and suggestions regarding our 10 acre spread of pines and hardwoods. I will be sure to get copies of the books you recommended. My husband and I are most certainly eager to care for the land.


  5. I have approximately 12 Colorado Blue spruce on my property in Columbus,O-several 50 or more feet high Last year, the summer drought hit the trees in a tough way……big time defoliation – 1 cause the trees sit on limestone a few ft down -so several limbs died. Two questions 1. Would topping the trees help to sprout new limbs on the bottem. 2. How can one help to prevent it from happening again.
    Thanks Oz Koeplin

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