Can a tree freeze to death?

Courtesy photo Cottonwoods, willows and other trees and brush have techniques to survive some pretty bad winters.

While trees go to sleep over winter they

still do an awful lot to keep their cells

alive. As you already know, trees drop

their leaves, so they no longer have to support

them. Also, trees will stock their cells

with water, which they use during various

plant processes.

Once winter arrives, trees move some

of that water into the tiny walls between

the cells. This assists in keeping the inside

of the cell from freezing. That relocated

water will freezes first, which gives off a

tiny burst of heat and helps keep the actual

tree cells from freezing. While all of this

is happening, trees also turn the starch inside

their cells to sugar, which makes cells

even more cold-tolerant.

Pine tree needles demand far less water

than trees with leaves. That’s why evergreen

trees don’t need to drop needles to

conserve H2O. In fact, even in icy conditions,

pines can move water throughout

their branches to nourish needles.

The dormant season is a restful time for

trees to conserve energy and prepare for

spring. Trees are just slowing down during

this time. But with bare branches and limited

activity, a dormant tree can look eerily

like a dead tree. If you’re curious whether

your sleepy tree is still alive, there are a

few easy checks you can do to make sure

your tree is still in good health.

Look for life

Trees in dormancy: Get close to your

tree and search for small leaf buds.

Branches full of green buds are alive and

ready to bloom in spring. A lack of buds,

or buds that are dry and shriveled, will

indicate a dead branch. If you find leaves

that hung on well past the fall leaf drop,

this may be another sign of a dead or dying


Perform the scratch test

During dormancy, use your fingertip to

lightly scratch a small spot on one of the

tree’s twigs. The layer immediately under

the bark should be moist and bright green.

Repeat this test on a couple twigs. While

you’re at it, try bending tree twigs. If they

break, they’re dead.

One last chance

Lastly, give them a chance before deciding

to remove them completely, sometimes

the top is dead but life will emerge

from the bottom and your tree will begin

to rebound! If this repeatedly happens

each spring, you may have a species variety

that is just not suitable for our cold climate,

we call this winter die-back. If you

have any questions regarding your trees,

feel free to give our office a call and we

will help you out.

– The Sublette County Conservation

District submits an article for the Sublette

Examiner on the first Tuesday of each

month. For more information, call 307-

367-2364 or stop by the new office at 217

Country Club Lane in Pinedale.


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