Have you ever heard a loud bang or pop when you're outside in the winter? It might have been a tree shivering during the brutally cold winter. The past several weeks have been very cold and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get warm and stay warm anytime soon. The very low cold temperatures that we experience during winter months can cause trees to crack. This is called frost cracking.
Photo by: Carri Jagger
Sometimes frost cracking is evident right away and sometimes it can take awhile to see the damage. Frost cracks can extend deep into trees causing permanent damage and opening the tree up for other pathogens to potentially infect it. The following trees are susceptible to frost cracking: sycamore, maples, apples, cherries, horse chestnuts, lindens, walnuts, and willows.
Trees that are exposed out in the open landscape where the sun can shine directly on them often times get frost cracks. The cracks can occur on a sunny winter day when the sun shines directly on the south and west side of the tree. As the sun sets and it gets colder, the fluids will freeze causing the tissues below the bark to burst. This is where the loud noise comes from. Damage can usually be seen from the ground up to about 4 feet on the tree.
Frost cracking usually happens in newer, younger, susceptible species of trees, therefore it is important to protect them from the cold winters with tree guards or in many fruit growers cases paint the lower portion of the tree trunks with white latex paint to reflect the sun.
If you are getting stir crazy from being cooped up in the house head out to the yard or local park and see if you can identify any frost cracks in young trees.
MIchigan State University Frost Cracks In Trees
University of Illinois Extension Frost Cracks
Bugwood Image Database Frost Cracks