Sunny winter days inspire some people to brave the cold and enjoy outdoor sports. Once safely indoors again, many notice the way winter weather causes dry, cracked skin. Even though trees have special adaptations, they also experience negative effects of the cold weather and can suffer from frost cracks. Here is some information about these vertical openings formed in trees and whether they require tree removal Waterloo.
What Are Frost Cracks?
The word crack can refer to both an explosive sound and to a split in the surface of something; when it comes to frost cracks, both definitions apply. Frost cracks occur naturally when the bark of winter trees suddenly breaks open with an explosive sound like a gunshot. Frost cracks most often occur on the south or southwest side of a tree as it basks in the warm sun of a winter afternoon.
Frost cracking is possible in any tree but is more likely to occur in thin-barked, deciduous species such as maples, tulip poplars, elms, and sycamores. The cracks get wider as the winter progresses, with openings up to several inches in width being common. These gaping holes cause concern to many landowners, who worry their trees may die. Others do not notice these injuries until spring when the openings have already begun to heal over.
What Causes Frost Cracks?
Northern trees have evolved to survive the winter without their living tissues freezing. Some species accomplish this task by creating their own form of natural antifreeze. By adding minerals and hormones to the water in their cells, the freezing point of the water becomes so low that it only solidifies at extreme sub-zero temperatures. Other types of trees cope by squeezing water into the nonliving space between cells, where it can freeze without causing damage.
Although the tree’s removal of water from its own cells is an adaptation for survival, the process has a side effect of dehydrating the wood, which can cause it to split from the inside out. Cracks also occur as the ice between cells expands. This situation is exacerbated when the heat of the afternoon sun melts the ice, allowing it to flow into new areas. The water then refreezes after nightfall, expanding and splitting the wood with a bang.
How Do Frost Cracks Affect a Tree?
Although frost cracks don’t kill a tree outright, the marks become permanent scars on the trunk, and can adversely affect the tree’s value. While even healthy trees can crack in the winter, defects, previous injuries, or cuts from pruning are often the starting points for further splitting which will continue throughout the winter months. This opening into the sensitive cambium layer permits insects and fungi to enter, potentially shortening the tree’s life due to rot.
The good news is that because northern trees are accustomed to the possibility of frost cracking, they also have ways of healing themselves. Once spring comes and temperatures stay above freezing, trees close up the split by growing a thin wall of new wood over it. This layer is vulnerable to reopening during the subsequent winter, however, and the repeated cracking and healing eventually leads to distinct raised areas along each side of the wound.
Martin’s Tree Service
If you have heard the telltale sound of a frost crack this winter, contact Martin’s Tree Service for our tree removal Waterloo specialists who can do an inspection of the damaged tree. Our technicians can advise you whether to trim the tree or leave it to nature. We can also help prevent future frost cracks through steps as simple as planting shrubs on the southwest side of vulnerable trees, or professional techniques as advanced as deep watering and protective tree wrapping.