Many people have never heard of a condition referred to as “frost cracks” in trees. In the Kansas City area, it is not an uncommon topic considering temperatures frequently transition from abnormally high to abnormally low over a short time span, something we’ve experienced this winter. Certain species are more prone to frost cracks than others, especially trees with thinner bark such as the sunset or October glory maple. What causes these cracks, which species are more susceptible, and what should you do if you suspect this condition in a tree or trees on your residential or commercial property?
Certain species including elm and oak trees are capable of withstanding temperatures that drop well below freezing; in fact, it’s rare to see frost cracks in these species. However, certain trees are extremely vulnerable to frost cracks, caused by fluctuating cold/warm temperatures we often experience in the area. In recent years, global warming has resulted in warmer winter temperatures in many regions. Combine these warmer temps followed closely by super cold temperatures, and the risk increases for thin-barked trees.
A frost crack generally appears as a vertical crack caused by bark that contracts and expands depending on whether it is cold or warm. Plants and trees that have not been hardened of or able to acclimate are more prone to experience harm from freezing and chilling that occurs when temperatures drop below freezing. At this point, ice crystals may form inside the plant tissue, potentially resulting in rupture of the cell membranes. When cell membranes rupture, the plant or tree becomes dehydrated, killing the tissue.
What areas of a tree commonly develop frost cracks?
In most cases frost cracks can be seen in the trunk of a tree and/or its main lead branches.
How do frost cracks occur?
When temperatures drop to colder levels, the outer wood and bark of a tree cools extremely fast. This causes shrinking and cracking of the bark, or outer layer of wood. The moisture in the heart wood freezes and expands, which causes the bark to split.
Once frost cracks develop, property owners will notice the damage becomes worse as time passes. It is vital to the tree’s health to consult with a certified tree professional who will assess your options in an effort to prevent fungus from infiltrating the interior system of your trees.
Frost cracks can range in size and may be a few inches wide and several feet long in some cases. In general, the colder temperatures drop, the wider the cracks become. You may also notice these cracks commonly occur on a tree’s south or southwest side. If you notice a crack in a tree or trees on your property that you suspect may be frost cracks, consult with our Kansas City tree service professionals immediately.