Can a Tree Freeze to Death?

Trees are incredibly resilient, and can handle the cold better than humans can.  The real problem isn’t usually the cold, it’s fluctuating temperatures.  We’ll get into that below.  Healthy trees usually do not freeze to death.


How Trees Survive Freezing Temperatures

During the winter time, trees enter dormancy.  This process protects them when they would otherwise get frostbite.

  • To prepare for dormancy, trees gather extra water.  This water helps them survive when the ground is frozen and they can’t pull any up
  • Dormant trees slow their metabolism, hardly grow and conserve as much energy as they can.  They are effectively hibernating.


When Trees are Most Vulnerable

During the tail end of winter or the beginning of springtime, it can warm up for a week, and then get bitterly cold again.  The tree will emerge from dormancy when it gets warm.  This is the time of year that the tree is going to be most likely to freeze to death. During this warm patch, the tree can and will begin to bud.  When it gets cold again, it will damage the tree, which is now susceptible to frostbite.

A little frostbite can hurt a tree, but it doesn’t usually kill it.


Winter Die-Off

Winter die-off is when a part of the tree succumbs to the cold weather.  It may be a limb or branch that was unable to stay alive.  Once a limb dies, it should be removed.  This is of particular importance if it is over your home or somewhere that children play.  Dead limbs fall without warning.

Symptoms of Winter Die-Off Include:

  • No leaves when the rest of the tree has blossomed
  • fungus
  • brittle wood
  • cracks or holes
  • Decaying bark

The only sign that a part of the tree has died off at first is going to be the lack of buds (and eventually leaves).  As the part of the tree that has died off ages, the other symptoms will become more evident.  We recommend having the limb dealt with when you notice that it is no longer growing any leaves.



Yes, trees can die in winter, but it’s usually because the tree was already sick.  It’s much more common for a part of the tree to die-off than the whole tree.