I have had several calls this past week about tree health and diagnosing tree issues. Disease is usually the first culprit in the homeowner’s eyes, but I have found that many problems are nutritional disorders or site specific problems.
So, to help better diagnose a problem with trees, some helpful tips and questions were developed by a UGA master gardener Extension volunteer.
Before you or anyone else can begin to assess your tree’s condition, you need to know what kind of tree you have and something about the general growth characteristics of the particular tree. Is your tree shallow or deep rooted? Is it deciduous or evergreen? Does your tree prefer wet or well-drained soils? When you have this information, you can begin to reduce your list of probable causes.
Many times the first thing you spot is an insect or a disease and you begin to suspect that they are the cause for the decline. Don’t end your search there because there are often other factors (environmental, etc.) that pre-dispose the trees to the pest attack.
Has your tree been transplanted? When a tree or any plant is moved (transplanted), it often goes through in adjustment period referred to as transplant shock. This shock is a result of its change in growing conditions.
Your soil, the light conditions, the amount of moisture, the amount of fertilizer, etc. are often quite different than what the plant had been grown in at the nursery or in the woods. Transplant shock can occur no matter how carefully you handle the plant (tree) during the transplant process.
How badly has drought affected your tree?
This often depends upon whether or not your tree is well established. Once a new tree is in the ground for two to three years, it is pretty well adapted to your site conditions and it can tolerate stress better. Trees growing in poor locations may have a hard time getting adequate water supplies even during normal rainfall years.
During an extreme drought, the moisture supply may be so reduced that the feeder roots begin to die. If there is enough root loss, symptoms will be expressed in the foliage as either leaf scorch or branch dieback.
Does your tree have girdling roots?
When first planting a small tree, many people dig the hole too small to accommodate the full spread of the root system. Sometimes they even go so far as to wind the longer roots around the stem to make the tree fit into a smaller hole. A few years later as the roots grow in diameter they begin to cut into the tree and choke it off much like a rope would do around a person’s neck. Such roots are called girdling roots, and they can cause untold damage.
The first symptom of a girdling root is the gradual decline of branch or perhaps the branches on one side of the crown. Every year more branches will die, until finally one whole side of the tree is dead. Before this stage is reached, examine the tree trunk at the soil line for the presence of girdling roots. They can be located at or below soil level.
If the crown is not too far gone, consider removing the troublesome root with a wood chisel during the dormant period.
There are countless other causes for unhealthy trees, but these few questions help better diagnose the issue at hand. For more information or questions, contact Effingham Extension agent Sam Ingram at 754-8040 or email@example.com.