The lone voice of horticultural reason

Paper Tree Wrap Unmasked

By mid-April you should remove that rough paper tree wrap we’ve all gotten used to applying, ace bandage-like, around the trunks of young crabapples, maples, aspen and other smooth-barked tree varieties to help them survive our northern winters. Throw it on the compost pile, then never use the stuff again.

New research from the University of Minnesota has found that wrapping the trunks of trees is about the worst thing you can do when attempting to prevent cracking from winter sun scald. Even when applied properly, the paper traps moisture between it and the bark, the winter sun warms the outer bark just as dangerously as without wrap, and in most cases the tree wrap makes the whole situation worse, not better.

What does the Renegade Gardener do? Since the origin of tree wrap was the correct theory that the best way to protect a young tree’s trunk from winter injury is to provide shade, I do just that. I use three, eight inch-wide cedar boards left over from a fence project. Each board has a sharp wooden stake screwed to it and coming out about a foot off one end. I make a nearly U-shaped mini-fence out of them, positioned six inches away from the trunk on the south, southeast and southwest sides of my one immature tree that still needs winter protection, a Red Sparkler crab. The boards are about five feet tall as they stick straight up from the ground, edges just touching, held securely in place by the stake ends, which I pound into the ground in the fall before the turf freezes. Instant, mildly attractive, winter-long shade for tender trunks.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener