One of the most wondrous features of a tree is that it will tell you everything you need to know about its condition once you know how to read and understand the way it physically communicates.
Take for example, the beautiful eighty-year-old Sugar Maple at my home whose leaves provide a cool refuge from the heat of the sun especially this past summer! One day in late July, I noticed that the tree started to flag (a term Arborists use when referring to a branch or a group of branches which have prematurely turned color). In this case, the leaves of the Sugar Maple were turning bright red, yellow and orange not because it was rushing the fall season, but because it was telling me that it was hurting. Hurting from the drought; hurting from people parking on its roots and compacting the soil; hurting from a lack of nourishment from construction injury when an underground electric line and gas pipe was installed near its root system; and hurting from defoliation caused by Gypsy-Moths three to four years ago.
Fall is the perfect time to study the health of your trees and shrubs since stressed trees and shrubs will generally display fall color earlier than healthy members of the same species. For example, you can expect to see many of your trees and shrubs coloring prematurely following a severe drought. Changes in leaf structure or size may also indicate moisture deficiency. For instance, if the leaves of your rhododendron are curling, it could be a reaction to drought both in the summer and winter.
Depending on the species, some trees will show other physical signs which let you know your tree is hurting, such as the over abundance or scarcity of fruit and/ or flowers which it produces. A Beech tree will produce more Beechnuts when it is in trouble to ensure the survival of its species. In contrast, an American Dogwood will produce fewer flowers when it is in failing health.
Follow up your observations about the appearance of the leaves (fruit and flowers, if applicable) with careful examination of the branches and trunk. Small branch dieback throughout the outer canopy and the presence of water sprouts (rapid growth of new branches which grow densely and upright) along the trunk and main branches indicates your tree’s response to a, sudden change in environmental conditions, structural injuries, disease, or excessive, incorrect, and ill-timed pruning.
During drought conditions, trees are forced to exhaust every bit of moisture from the soil. Their hair roots either virtually or completely die off and are unable to absorb water when they finally receive rain. If your trees were weakened by a drought, as a rule, they will be more susceptible to infestation of insects and infection by disease. A combination of two unrelated stress conditions can trigger a rapid decline possibly resulting in premature mortality. Fortunately, trees can often recover from their weakened condition with proper therapy including timely fertilization, watering, regular pruning and an integrated plant management program.
In short, if you care about your trees, listen to them by observing their physical warning signals and do not forget to have them annually inspected and diagnosed by a trained professional Arborist.
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