How to Fix Freeze Damage on a Cherry Tree

Written by julie christensen
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How to Fix Freeze Damage on a Cherry Tree
Plant cherry trees on a northern or eastern slope to delay early blooming. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Cherry trees are thin-barked and prone to winter damage. Common problems include splitting bark, branch breakage or blossom damage. Damage occurs most frequently during late fall freezing periods, before the tree has entered dormancy, or in spring, when the tree is producing new growth. Wait to repair any damage, with the exception of broken branches, until spring. Identifying dead wood is easier when new growth has emerged. Tart cherry trees survive spring freezes better than sweet cherry trees, which are generally hardy only in areas with mild winters.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Pruning shears and loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Knife
  • Garden hose
  • Dormant oil spray

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Remove broken limbs and branches. Cut the branches at the collar instead of flush with the tree. The collar is a small lump where the branch meets the main trunk. Cut at a slight angle from the top of the branch down toward the trunk. Don't leave a stub.

  2. 2

    Inspect the cherry tree for dead wood. The outer bark will appear brown or waterlogged. A sample cut reveals brown, dry inner tissue instead of healthy green wood. Prune out all dead wood, using pruning shears, loppers or a pruning saw.

  3. 3

    Cut off any sun scald patches, using a sharp knife, until healthy new bark is revealed. Cut the bark to smooth it with the surrounding area. Sun scald occurs when bright sunlight bouncing off a field of snow warms a tree during the day, while night-time temperatures cause the tree to freeze rapidly. The bark may split or appear dried and shrunken. Because cherry trees have thin bark, they are quite susceptible to sun scald, especially when they are young.

  4. 4

    Provide the cherry tree with at least 1 inch of water weekly during the growing season if rain isn't adequate. Extra water helps the tree recover from the trauma of freezing temperatures.

  5. 5

    Manage pests and diseases. Cracks in the bark and damage to the limbs make the cherry tree more vulnerable to pest and disease problems. Spray the tree with a dormant oil spray in late winter, per label instructions.

Tips and warnings

  • Rejuvenate a damaged tree by pruning over the course of two to three years, if possible. Severe pruning all at once causes excessive vegetative growth that's hard to manage. Remove any cherry trees that have lost 50 per cent or more of their limbs.
  • Protect the cherry tree with tree wrapping paper or paint it with white indoor latex paint to prevent sun scald.

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