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Trees….and not just the Christmas Variety

Have you put up your tree yet? Ever wondered what happens to our trees during these harsh Winter months?
Read Ollie’s piece to find out.
“When we look out at our gardens and the British landscape at this time of year there isn’t much greenery about. We are all familiar with the scenes of winter with frosted grass and the silhouettes of naked trees against the low sun, but have you ever stopped to think about what is going on inside those bare trees and why? The harsh winter months consist of shortened days with minimal light levels, freezing temperatures and strong winds, which the trees around us have to endure. Over millennia deciduous trees have become perfectly adapted to survive these testing months, by shutting down and becoming dormant.

Deciduous trees prepare themselves for dormancy during autumn as the day length steadily reduces and there is less and less light for photosynthesis. The reduction in light levels triggers trees to begin the process of shedding their leaves. Trees withdraw sugars from their leaves and store them within the tissues of branches, trunks and roots. As chlorophyll (the pigment that makes leaves green) is broken down, other pigments in the leaves become apparent and zing out in vibrant shades of yellow and red, before the leaves detach from the twigs and fall. Another advantage of losing leaves during winter is to reduce the effects of strong winds. Leaves can act like a sail, so having bare stems allows the wind to pass through the crown easily, which in turn reduces the pressures on roots anchoring trees in the ground. As average temperatures fall, cellular activity in the parts of the tree above ground grinds to a halt. Below ground, roots never become fully dormant; as long as the ground doesn’t freeze, they continue to grow, albeit at a greatly reduced rate. If the ground does freeze, roots close to the surface cease to grow until the temperature rises and they become active again.

Most mature trees have a thick layer of tough bark, which provides a defence against pests and diseases and acts as an excellent insulating layer to protect the wood beneath. The increased sugar levels in the tissues of the wood also act as an anti-freeze to stop delicate cells being damaged by the cold. All of these winter survival strategies ensure that the trees around us live for centuries. Without dormancy, they would never be able to survive the harsh conditions that winter throws at them. So next time you stop to admire a deciduous tree this winter, spare a thought for the remarkable things it is doing in its struggle for survival.” Ollie ~ Creative Landscapes