It’s always nice when we’re blessed with a warmer-than-usual winter. Rather than dealing with cold temperatures, icy roads, chilling rains, or, snow, we’d rather see relatively balmy weather during the winter months. Unfortunately, there can be a down side to those nice winter temps, and that is an increase in the number of insect pests that survive in our trees.
How Insects Survive a Cold Winter
There are three major ways that insects protect themselves against a cold winter: migration, freeze tolerance, or freeze avoidance. Which method is used depends upon the type of insect. For instance, the Monarch butterfly migrates to Mexico for the winter. Some insects have a built-in freeze tolerance, such as the woolly bear, a moth larva, and the goldenrod gall fly larvae. Some freeze tolerant insects use compounds called cryoprotectants that are kind of like the ethylene glycol contained in automotive antifreeze. This compound helps these certain insects to survive when the temperature dips below freezing.
Freeze avoidance includes hibernation in an area where ice nucleation cannot occur. Some places insects like to hide out during a cold winter include dead leaves left on the ground or underground. Others seek shelter in tree hollows or under rocks. And, as you well know, some move into your garage, shed, attic, or walls to get through the winter. Some insects have the capability of producing a wax-coated cuticle that protects it from ice.
Now You Know
Now that you know how insects survive a cold winter, you can see why they are in greater abundance during a warm winter. If the winter temperature fluctuates, as it can in Texas, there will be surges in insect pest activity. When the temperatures remain mild throughout the winter months, there will be larger insect populations that will hatch out in the springtime. The insect pests will also hatch out earlier in the spring when the temperatures are unseasonably warm. Additionally, during a mild winter and an early spring, there are more plants for the insects to feed on, helping them to thrive.
What to Do About It
While you are enjoying a mild winter, don’t forget to pay attention to your trees. They may not be doing as well as you are. Call on a certified arborist to come examine your trees for extra insect pest activity. This is the time now to get a handle on the insect pests that do damage to your trees. Even though the temperatures may be warmer than usual, the insects may not be quite as active as they will be in a couple of more months when it really warms up. If you have a tree service come out now and take care of the problem, it won’t be as much of an issue later on in the year.
What to Look For
All through an unusually warm winter, you should be keeping watch over your trees and be looking for signs of disease and/or insect infestation. When Central Texas has experienced drought conditions for a year or more, the trees will be stressed from the dry conditions. Other causes of stress are too much rain or snowfall in previous years, cold snaps, damage to the trees such as broken limbs, root damage, a variety of diseases, or improper pruning. Any cause of stress to a tree will render it more susceptible to insect infestation. So knowing the condition of your tree’s health will help you to recognize new signs of trouble. Sometimes you can see the insects on and around your trees. Sometimes you just see their handiwork, such as a bit of sawdust around a newly bored hole in the bark. Whatever it is, take immediate steps to remedy the problem by calling a certified arborist to come out and deal with it.
Care For Your Trees
You should be caring for your trees year round anyway, but especially more so during times of unusual weather, such as a warmer-than-normal winter. Consult with your arborist to determine the best methods of caring for the types of trees you have on your property. Many times, there will be a variety of trees on one property. They each have their own special needs and problems to watch out for. Knowing how to care for each individual tree is paramount in maintaining the health of the trees and of all the other plants and grasses in your vicinity. Healthy trees will be better able to withstand insect invasions.
Know each type of tree’s need for water. Some trees need more water, and some need less. Some trees do well with mulching, some are better off without mulch. Young trees may take more water than do mature, well-established trees.
Knowing when, what type, and which trees to fertilize is important also. Some trees benefit from regular fertilization, but others don’t need any.
Your arborist will know when and how to prune your trees for the maximum beauty and health of the tree. You should never just randomly hack off a limb here and there. Even if the limb is ready to fall and could potentially cause damage, you should still call an arborist to take care of it for you so that the tree isn’t damaged further, unless the situation is such that if you don’t cut the limb it could hurt someone. People are still more important than trees!
The Root System
You should be careful of the root system so as not to damage it. This means not tamping down the soil too hard under the tree. Watch where you dig under or near a tree that you don’t cut into the root system.
Your Local Arborist
Most of the time a healthy, well-established tree doesn’t require daily observation. A young, newly transplanted tree will need more care, as will a stressed tree. Knowing a good certified arborist with whom you can develop a working relationship will be beneficial for both your trees and you. He or she will not only care for the trees, but will help you learn to do what you can to preserve them for your enjoyment and for the well-being of our planet.