Drought Stressed Tree Update

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
The timely rains we received throughout much of last year’s growing season put the drought of 2011-2012 out of mind for many of us. But the reality is, our landscapes are still reeling from the effects. Many species of trees were hurt (both native and non-native) and continue to decline. Even though some of these trees are still alive; they are becoming a significant safety hazard as the decaying limbs continue to break and fall.

Examining your trees for signs of advanced decay (peeling bark, split or broken limbs, rot, etc.) is much easier this time of year without leaves in the way. It is important to examine the whole tree, not just the trunk at eye level. A good pair of binoculars can aid in this process. Another good way to check for the general condition of a limb is to simply grab it and try to bend it. While some species are more flexible than others, all healthy wood will bend before it breaks.

Also watch closely as leaf buds begin to open in a few weeks. Ideally, you would like to see the leaves unfurl uniformly. No leaves (or undersized) on the ends of limbs or sections of the tree noticeably behind in bud break are signs of trouble. Many trees exhibiting these symptoms over the last few years have greened up, only to die completely as the summer temperatures rise.

As a reminder, options for caring for a tree in severe decline are limited. There are no “miracle cures”, the best you can do is give the tree adequate water and eliminate further stress by protecting the root system. Even additional fertilizer can potentially cause more harm than good if the fertilizer forces growth the tree cannot afford to sustain.

In the accompanying photograph, you can clearly see the decay in this silver maple tree. Nothing can be done to prevent additional decay on this limb. Many others in the tree were in a similar shape. This tree should be removed as it is well beyond any hope of recovery.

decayedtree
(Photo courtesy of Nate’s Tree Service)

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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