Looking for Signs of Trouble
As with people, when problems affect the health of your tree, early detection can often mean the difference between life and death. Signs of trouble with trees are sometimes obvious, but at other times, you may need to make a closer inspection. Because trees are living organisms, you should keep an eye out for these eight signs of trouble on a regular basis.
- Small leaves, especially high up in the canopy, may be an indication that water is not reaching the upper branches. Underlying causes may be root or soil problems, vascular damage within the trunk or branches, pests, drought, or other issues. Additionally, when water intake is a problem, leaves will tend to droop or flag downward.
- Leaf color and damage. Look for deep, vivid color in the leaves. Pale or off-color leaves might be a sign of pest or disease damage, too much or too little water, or lack of nutrition or sunlight. Damage by insects, especially some leaf-sucking pests, can result in a spider-web look to the leaves. Leaf-chewing insects tend to leave holes.
- Girdling or circling roots can eventually choke the tree’s vascular system, cutting off necessary water and nutrients to the canopy. Watch for evidence of below ground girdling roots when you can’t see the normal root flare. Depending on the size of the girdling root, pruning it may be an option. Girdling roots are often the result of improper planting: trees should not go straight into the ground like telephone poles –the base should flair outward as it enters the ground.
- Stress cracks in the trunk (or branches) can be a sign of serious structural weakness. It is especially grave if the crack opens and closes as the tree sways in the wind. The part of the tree above the crack is vulnerable to failure. Stress cracks can be caused by a number of factors, including severe wind, heavy canopy growth, and weak unions.
- Fungi may appear on the leaves, branches, trunk, or roots. Mushrooms on the trunk, branches, or roots can often indicate internal decay. Fungus on the ground near the trunk points to a high likelihood of root decay. An arborist certified in pest control may be able to treat some fungi problems, depending upon the severity and condition.
- Branch tip dieback, or tree demise that proceeds from the most external areas inward, may be due to root or soil problems, vascular damage in the trunk, lack of nutrients, pests, drought, or other issues. Proper diagnosis is vital to alleviate this issue. Once the cause is isolated and the condition arrested, the dieback can be pruned out.
- Late leaf development or early leaf drop is an indication that the tree is under stress. It is important to properly diagnose the cause and initiate recommended treatments promptly.
- Pests and diseases can cause havoc with the health of your trees. If diagnosed early enough, most can be controlled. The best defense is a healthy tree. These invaders tend to attack trees that are already under stress.
Trees in the urban landscape must deal with a number of factors not found in their natural environment. These may include lack of organic matter available for decomposition into the root system, heat from nearby buildings and parking lots, lack of nearby trees for cooling and protection, compacted soil, competition from grass, limited areas for root growth, and other sources of stress.
If you see any of these signs of trouble or others, contact a certified arborist at Growing Earth Tree Care for a free consultation.