The Dirt on Drought Stress and Its Effect on Your Trees

The Dirt on Drought Stress and Its Effect on Your Trees

Drip. Drop. Drought.

Drought conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional levels have blanketed the Western and Mid-Western U.S.--approximately 50 percent of the country--throughout the past several years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average temperature over land and ocean in August 2013 tied as fourth warmest since 1880.

From developing safety hazards to killing and felling weak trees, drought conditions are responsible for devastating tree losses in affected regions. Simply put, when root systems do not have access to a sufficient water source, they fail to keep trees stable and strong enough to ward off pests, diseases and weather-related damage. Even native trees are struggling to survive drought stress.

Worse yet, trees may not recover from drought stress for five or more years--if they even recover at all. For example, Houston's Memorial Park is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. and was said to have lost more than 50 percent of its trees due to the drought. The total removals, disposals and replacements cost the city millions of dollars.

U.S. Drought Monitor
Photo: droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Because drought is the most recent No. 1 climate-related topic, particularly in Western states such as Nevada, Texas and Colorado, property owners must better understand how the consequences can affect their trees.

Excessive Flooding Follows Prolonged Drought

A majority of Colorado has suffered from drought this year--but the succeeding heavy rains accumulated too quickly to prevent flooding and runoff from damaging residents' trees and landscapes.

drought-stressed tree
Photo: Fotolia.com - Carlos Caetano

Because drought has encouraged wild fires to spread, the resulting reduced or eliminated levels of vegetation or slopes have increased runoff as well. The size and scale of flooding have expanded from the large amounts of retained moisture in such areas.

Although drought kills trees over a long period of time, flooding can deter trees' ability to absorb moisture. In other words, trees can live on stored water for a while, but over-watered trees will succumb--or die--more quickly.

Weakened trees aren't the only objects high waters seemed to reveal in light of Colorado's excessive flooding: An invasive pest has recently crossed several state borders to settle within the depths of ash trees--its first noted appearance in the West.

Drought Stress Increases Trees' Vulnerability

Emerald ash borer has affected approximately 50 million ash trees in 21 states since its initial appearance in the U.S. more than 10 years ago. But Colorado not only marks the fourth state EAB has invaded so far this year but also the westernmost state in which the pest has made an appearance.

Nearly 1.5 million ash trees thrive in Denver alone, which is only a small percentage of a state in which drought conditions affect more than half of the land. Unfortunately, trees suffering existing drought conditions may be less capable of fighting EAB than their healthy counterparts, should such a pest invasion occur.

drought-stressed Colorado pine
Colorado pine trees suffer from drought, showing signs of damage through their browned needles.

"EAB will be more attracted to drought-stressed trees first," explains Anand Persad, technical advisor for the Davey Institute. "Although not a lot of alignment exists between drought-stressed trees and the impact of EAB, drought stress can increase the likelihood of attack."

Not all EAB-affected trees will fall victim to the pest, but drought stress will increase the likelihood the pest will survive and thrive within the tree. Healthy trees will take longer to completely succumb to EAB--approximately two to four years--while drought-stressed trees will take less time and likely suffer a greater negative impact.

Persad doesn't know how wide Colorado's EAB infestation has expanded so far. Regardless of your location, however, he suggests a preventative EAB treatment if your trees grow adjacent to an infestation. 

Drought Stress Care You Can Trust

Regardless of the severity of drought affecting your region and your trees, frequent and consistent monitoring can prevent health problems and structural hazards in the future. Consider the following tips for your trees under drought stress and/or excessive flooding:

  1. Manage the moisture surrounding your trees and their root systems.
  2. Water your trees where it counts when drought conditions occur.
  3. Replace nutrients in the soil as necessary.
  4. If removal is necessary, consider planting estimates to replace the trees you'll lose. Then, learn how to plant the right tree in the right place.

Davey can help--request a free consultation online today. You can trust Davey's professionally trained arborists to recognize the warning signs of drought stress affecting your trees.

  • MN tree care October 15, 2013 >Yes, Minnesota has seen unusual drought conditions too, although we are starting to enter a more rainy season finally. It's so interesting how too little water kills trees, but too much can also kill a tree. Good tips for residents to practically care for trees despite drought.
Add a comment:
Featured or Related Blog Posts
  • Root in Moisture

    Planting trees is just half the battle.

    The diseases, pests and power equipment that emerge outdoors in spring, accompanying frequent sunlight, longer days and warmer temperatures, can wreak havoc on your trees if you don't put forth the effort to protect them.

    To keep your trees healthy throughout the growing season and beyond, you must practice routine maintenance and proper tree care. One way to help trees retain moisture, reduce weeds and keep power equipment at a safe distance is through mulch. In the coming weeks, you'll see piles of fresh mulch lined along neighborhood driveways. Soon, the coarse, fragrant matter will settle among flower and tree beds, enhancing the quality of landscapes' appearances.

    Read More
  • Just a Trim, Please

    Put a pair of scissors in your hands, and whether you're cutting coupons or bangs, there's always the potential to oversnip. It's almost too easy to make a mistake as you clip, clip, clip away - removing a little more on this side and a bit more on that side.

    Just like with a bad haircut, there is nothing more noticeable than a poorly pruned plant - pieces sticking out in all directions, a butchered shrub, a tree that looks like the top has been sliced off. The good news is that just as the perfect haircut can frame the face and improve a person's appearance, the same can be said for a professional tree pruning job.

    Pruning is not only a science, but an art form. The science aspect of pruning involves understanding tree biology, recognizing plant flaws and skillfully eliminating or minimizing defects. The artistic aspect of pruning consists of removing dead wood while aesthetically shaping the tree.

    Read More
  • Heat Wave

    Heat wave.

    The term usually makes many people think of the tropics or the desert.

    But extreme heat has hit many areas hard so far this summer. Record highs have been broken in some cities, while others have seen their hottest temperatures since the 1980s.

    Read More
  • Forecast: Hot & Humid

    The air-conditioning is set on high. The fan is blowing in my face. And it feels so good, particularly since my dog and I were just panting within seconds of stepping out to a heavy wall of heat and humidity. His face tilts up to mine, happy for the nice, cool breeze. We face the facts together as I sip from a tall, cool glass of water and he laps up the same out of his bowl: Despite our yearning to enjoy the outdoors, it's hot. And it's hot in nearly every region of the country.

    There's simply no denying it: This summer's a scorcher. While it's difficult to find the motivation to open the door to the heat lingering in the air outside - let alone step out onto a dry, parched lawn - I brave the elements because I notice my trees need some TLC, too.

    It's difficult to imagine another day of 90-plus degree temperatures. So I can hardly imagine how my trees must feel as their roots cling to nothing but the dry soil, day after day.

    Read More
  • Try a Little Tenderness

    When someone moves into a new home, they tend to have a smoother, more successful transition when they plan ahead and carefully move through each step. This includes thoughtfully packing boxes beforehand in an organized fashion, clearly labeling the boxes so movers put them in their proper rooms and then unpacking them so everything that is removed is unwrapped and put into its place to avoid rework.

    If this works for your most delicate China place settings and Lenox crystal, you can see why it would make all the difference when moving something as large, yet just as delicate, as a tree.

    When it's a big, valuable tree that provides numerous benefits to your landscape and your family, a "move" is much more than just picking it up and placing it in its new location. To preserve the numerous benefits trees provide to a community and its residents, which The National Tree Benefits Calculator can help determine, one must plan carefully - before, during and after the big move - to ensure survival.

    Read More

Request a consultation

What do you need services for?
Sorry, we can’t seem to find the zip code you specified. Our residential tree care offices may not service your area. If you believe this is an error, please try again. Need help? Email us at info@davey.com.
  • Email newsletter
  • Woodchips
*Please fill out all required fields.