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Frost Cracks: Ice that Forms on Trees

Frost Cracks: Ice that Forms on Trees


If you observe newly formed vertical cracks on the trunk or existing vertical cracks that widen during winter, it is likely that your trees have frost cracks. Winter frost cracks are more noticeable when there are sunny days followed by cold nights. This article will explain how to identify frost cracks on trees, discuss which trees are more prone to them, and explore the potential effects on the health of affected trees.

How to Spot Frost Cracks

Frost cracks usually appear on the trunks of trees and are more common in young trees, those with thin bark, and those exposed to direct sunlight, especially on their south or southwestern sides. These vertical splits in the trunk can be short or long, sometimes extending several feet. Frost cracks tend to widen during winter, but they close up during summer. If you heard a loud noise from your yard or property, it might be a result of a new frost crack forming on a tree. The tree already has an old frost crack with reaction wood around the wound.

How Do Frost Cracks Form?

A tree trunk can split loudly when exposed to direct sunlight followed by a rapid drop in temperature. This is because the bark contracts faster than the inner wood, causing a split between the two layers. Frost cracks can also be caused by any drastic temperature change or shift in sunlight, even if it’s during the day or due to the sun moving behind clouds. When a crack forms due to frost, it may reopen during any cold winter day but will close when the weather becomes warmer. To protect itself from predators, a tree may grow new wood in the crack which makes it more visible.

Trees Most Susceptible to Frost Cracks

Although any tree can experience a frost crack, certain trees are more susceptible to them. These trees include Sycamore, Maple, Apple, Cherry, Horse chestnut, Linden, Walnut, and Willow trees. If you have any of these trees, it is important to check them regularly for frost cracks and take steps to prevent winter injury whenever possible.

How to Prevent Frost Cracks in Trees

To reduce the likelihood of frost cracks causing your trees to split, try the following measures: during winter, wrap young or vulnerable trees with burlap; avoid overpruning so that branches provide shade to the trunk; keep trees healthy and watered; add organic mulch around trees; fertilize and compost as necessary; address any tree health issues or pests promptly since stressed or unhealthy trees are more vulnerable; and be aware of anything that was recently removed around the tree that used to protect it from sunlight. These steps can also help protect against sunscald.

What to Do if You Spot Frost Cracks on Your Trees

What should you do if you notice a vertical crack in the stem of your tree? Although the tree will help close the wound and avoid more problems, open cracks can attract pests and fungi, causing decay in the long run. Some frost cracks tend to reopen yearly, but if new growth called reaction wood forms around the crack, there’s a lower chance of it reopening. It is not recommended to seal, patch, or fill frost cracks on trees because doing so will hinder their flexibility, which is essential for their survival. Filling a frost crack can actually harm the tree and cause additional problems. To improve the tree’s health, you should water it regularly, use fertilizers, prune it properly, seek plant health care services, and apply preventative treatments, as necessary.


If you need help with winter tree-related concerns such as tree health, frost cracks or professional tree service, Tree Service Rochester NY is here to assist you. Get in touch with us today to request an estimate for tree service.

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