The No. 1 Threat to Roots... and How You Can Protect Your Trees

The No. 1 Threat to Roots... and How You Can Protect Your Trees

Trees stand steady to provide us with everlasting, natural beauty and serenity within a busy, preoccupied world.

We often find ourselves looking up to trees, mesmerized by their sheer size and stature but also seeking inspiration and peace. But if trees fail to establish a strong, healthy foundation at the base, their ability to emit the mental, emotional and environmental benefits is less likely to exist.

With summer storms and hurricane season often comes heavy rain that saturates the ground and threatens trees' ability to stand tall, strong and steady. When torrential downpours collect puddles of standing water near the bases of tree trunks, problems may occur above and below ground.

flooded palm trees
Excessive water deposits near tree roots wash away soil from the root zone, which weakens trees' stability.

"After approximately seven days, standing water can seriously prevent oxygen from reaching tree roots underground, which may contribute to root rot," explains A.D. Ali, technical advisor for the Davey Institute. "And if the foliage retains water over time, the excess moisture can breed foliar diseases."

Regardless of a tree's health, flood-prone areas are specifically threatening to root systems. Similar to how humans will drown underwater due to lack of oxygen, root cells will die if they become saturated with water for an extended period of time. Excessive water deposits also wash away soil from the root zone, which weakens the tree's stability.

Flooding can also cause floating plant material and other debris to damage trees and their bark and postpone tree care and maintenance production. For example, tree trimming and fertilization applications are not possible to execute properly after heavy amounts of rain collect near trees.

flooded hawthorn closeup
Monitor low-lying areas at the bases of tree trunks to prevent rain from collecting puddles, as shown above.

Ali suggests monitoring low-lying areas at the bases of tree trunks to prevent rain from collecting puddles. "Fill low areas with soil before the rain falls, and ensure your landscape is equipped with proper drainage capabilities," he says. Pruning the canopy to help increase air movement and deter disease pathogens from festering there will improve trees' ability to withstand excessive rain, Ali says, adding submerged foliage may not recover if not addressed in a timely manner.

Trees may express several different warning signs as a result of flood damage, including structural damage, premature fall color, wilted leaves, discolored foliage, die-back, pest infestations, exposed roots and/or an unstable trunk. Although flooding can take a toll on trees, removal isn't always the best or most necessary option.

To help ensure your trees stay strong and healthy after a storm, you can manage flood damage before it gets out of hand. Address concerns ahead of time by:          

  • Pruning dead or broken branches
  • Re-setting or staking trees that are unstable or leaning
  • Flushing sediments and leaching the soil
  • Managing pests as needed
  • Adding mulch to protect new sensitive roots and improve aeration
  • Managing mineral nutrition with micro-nutrients and slow-release nitrogen sources
  • Leaching soil where salt water has intruded to remove sodium
  • Removing sediment deposits to return soil level to original grade

Because many trees take years to stand steady and grow tall enough to add any significant value to your property, monitoring is critical before, during and after severe weather occurs. If you're experiencing a more saturated summer, look out for your trees. After all, trees' shade capability, impressive stature and natural beauty are among many reasons why they deserve your care and attention.

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