September 6, 2019

Preventive Health: Protect Your Trees Against Drought Stress

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Who hasn’t heard that saying? While not every health problem is preventable, many are. A proper fitness routine, eating healthy, and generally taking care of your body goes a long way toward a healthy life. 

Tree health is similar in this regard. Even well-established trees are susceptible to ailments, but regular maintenance and care help to lower their risk of developing problems. 

Dried out leaves hanging in a forest

Preventive healthcare enables people to stay in touch with their health, catching any problems that arise early, making treatment more accessible. Checkups, immunizations and dental care all play an important role in preventive health in humans, while trees require regular pruning, water, and proper nutrients in their soil. 

Dry, hot months, like those at the end of summer, spell trouble for trees that aren’t properly maintained. Drought stress is a large concern when the temperature gets high and the rains slow down but is easily avoidable with some simple steps. 

Frequent watering sounds like it would be the best thing for a tree at risk of drought stress, but it’s actually the opposite, especially in younger trees or newly transplanted ones. If water is easily available at the top of the soil, the trees will have no reason to expend energy into deepening their roots. Keeping their roots close to the top of the soil stops the tree from growing strong, and leads to larger problems down the line. 
Instead, water deeply once a week for less established trees, and every ten to fourteen days for trees whose roots have already dug in thoroughly. This is made easier with a soaker hose or a drip irrigation setup, and adding a few inches of quality mulch will hinder evaporation, allowing more of the water to make it into the lower layers of soil.

Routine pruning is usually a core component of tree maintenance, but when there’s a drought, it is often best to skip pruning unless it’s really needed. The extra stress from pruning may be too much for the tree to handle. 

Drought stress affects trees for years after they first develop the symptoms. Smaller roots die off when strained, making it harder for the tree to absorb all the water and nutrients it needs from the soil, continuing a cycle of damage. Beetles and other insects are eager to take advantage of weakened trees and aren’t easy to get rid of once they’ve infested one.

If your tree is showing signs of drought-related stress; wilted, yellowing leaves, lessened twig growth, early color changes or falling leaves, and leaf scorch, it’s been affected by dry soil, and it’s important to take steps immediately to try to avoid long term damage. 

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