Kansas along with the rest of the central plains region has been experiencing an extreme heat wave. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2012 has been the warmest year on record thus far. January – March 2012 has been the warmest on record since 1895 and according to The Weather Channel, Kansas experienced its third warmest April ever.
Recently some of our customers have been contacting us wanting an estimate for the removal of a tree that is seemingly in decline. The premature loss of leaves has them believing that their mature tree is on its way out. The truth in most cases is that it’s on its way into premature dormancy. Deciduous trees such as oaks are losing their leaves now instead of in the fall. But why?
The answer is stress due to extreme heat and lack of rain the last two summers. Trees are dropping their leaves as a defense mechanism from further injury.
When the weather conditions are hot and dry, our trees take up massive amounts of water. If that water is not in the soil to support the root system the tree shuts down to preserve the moisture needed for continued life. This means eliminating the loss of water, which happens to be through the leaves, thus the dropping of leaves. Typically, the first trees to show symptoms are rooted in shallow, poor or rocky soil where moisture is generally lowest.
How can you tell if your tree has gone dormant (still alive) or is dead? You would need to conduct the snap-scratch test. Start by selecting the tip of a twig the size of a pencil. Grasp the twig and bend it sharply back on itself. A living limb will bend easily and eventually the stem will split showing moist wood within. A dead limb will snap cleanly with very little pressure and appear dry within. The scratch test is another common method. Use a knife or your fingernail to scratch the bark on a young twig. Living trees will have a green underbark and feel damp to the touch, whereas a dead limb will be tough to scrape and show a brown underbark.
Another question our customers have asked lately is “Why do the high temperatures we have been experiencing effect our trees so much?” High heat and lack of water can have detrimental effects on your new trees and trees that have a poor vascular system. Trees cool themselves through transpiration, a process where water is released from the leaves as water vapor. This is similar to the way we transpire water to cool our bodies when we sweat. As temperatures rise, water vapor is released through small pores in leaf surfaces. Even though trees have mechanisms to regulate water loss, water can evaporate from the leaves faster than it can be replaced. Even with sufficient soil moisture, trees and shrubs with limited/unhealthy root systems can struggle to move enough water. Lack of available water to trees and shrubs in hot areas often results in scorched, dead or wilted leaves.
Although, 2012 has produced tough conditions for your trees, you can help aid them through rather simply. First, before your trees leaves start to wilt and fall off start “Deep Watering”. Deep watering is the process of watering slowly to soak the first six to twelve inches of soil and for a long period of time. Water from twelve inches from root base all the way out to the drip line. The drip line is where the lower canopy ends and the water would drip from the leaves onto the soil. This deep water process should be done at least two times a week to keep your trees nourished during the hottest days of summer. Many people will stop watering to keep the water bill down. I often remind my customers that the cost of removing a tree that does not make it is going to be much higher than any water bill.
Second, to preserve the moisture after you have begun the deep water process you need to add mulch around the base of your trees. Mulch helps to retain the water and keep other vegetation from growing at the root base of your trees. When mulching make sure you apply no more than three or four inches of mulch. More than that and you could run the risk of damaging the root base.
Remember, trees are very hardy and used to dealing with the weather extremes. As conditions return to “normal” your stressed trees will rebuild lost energy and continue on with life. Although you may not expect to see the beautiful fall colors this year, rest assured the majority of these brown trees will return in 2013. Good luck caring for your trees through this summer and the rest of 2012.
Eden Tree Service is a Kansas City based company that specializes in pruning, trimming, and removing small to extra-large trees. We are equipped with the proper equipment, insurances, and personnel to handle any sized residential- commercial project. We look forward to taking care of you, your trees and leaving you with a clean-up that is second to none! – Mike Corcoran/Owner