Drought stress can be a silent killer of your landscape trees. Effects may appear slowly, especially in older trees. By the time you notice the major symptoms, damage can be extensive. Fortunately, knowing the signs and what to do when you spot them can save your trees.
Signs of Drought Stress
Early signs of drought stress are easy to overlook. Leaves on deciduous trees may appear wilted early in the day, but they may perk up again in the morning due to the moisture in the air. A little bit of yellowing may occur on leaf margins or needle tips.
As stress worsens, the leaves will remain wilted. Some may yellow complete, or the edges may become brown and dry. Eventually, leaves and needles begin to drop completely as the tree attempts to conserve energy. Most alarming is when the lack of water begins to affect the health of the trunk. Cracks may begin to form. These are especially dangerous, as they provide access to insects and disease organisms that can further weaken the struggling tree.
Drought stress is most common during extended periods of hot dry weather, but it can actually affect trees even when you think they should be getting enough moisture. Trees with overly dense canopies may block water from reaching the soil, which means there isn't enough for roots to take in. Another issue is when the lawn is watered around the tree, but additional water isn't supplied for the tree itself. Competition from other trees and shrubs can further lead to insufficient irrigation.
Winter is another common time for drought stress, particularly with evergreen trees. Periods of dry winter weather with temperatures above freezing can lead to exceptionally dry soil conditions for semi-dormant evergreen trees. Add in windburn from cold winter winds, and the drought stress can be quite severe.
If you suspect drought stress, the first step is to have an arborist look over the tree and prune out any damaged or dead wood that won't survive. They may also recommend thinning the crown so more moisture can get to the roots and to minimize the number of leaves the root system has to support.
Next will be a proper watering schedule. Trees need several gallons of water every few weeks, particularly in dry weather or if they share a space with other water-hungry plants. You can use a moisture meter to monitor water levels in the soil. Your arborist can also help you determine a watering schedule that is perfect for your tree's variety and size, as well as for your local climate and soil type.
An arborist for hire can offer more help with the prevention and treatment of drought stress in your landscape trees.
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