The Trees Are Talking

October 2016, Backyard Wisdom
by: Gilbert A Smith, ISA Certified Master Arborist

Early fall color on stressed trees;  photos by Lesley Bruce Smith

Early fall color on stressed trees; photos by Lesley Bruce Smith

For a few weeks in the early fall you may have noticed some trees partly or fully turning color ahead of their sisters in the same species. This is a trees’ way of communicating. Do you know what its saying?

“I am under extreme stress here! I’ve got to let my leaves go, even though they feed me because I can not support them any longer. I am in a weakened condition which if not stabilized, I will die prematurely.”

If you look carefully you may see the reason why. Look for damaged areas of the trunk, fungus growing on the trunk or the roots or the most obvious, restricted roots in planting islands or parking lots.

The tree is also sending out pheromone signals which insects, fungi, and bacteria, “smell” and begin to attack and colonize the tree. They know that the weakened tree can not repel their attacks as a healthy tree does. Does this sound heartless to you?  It is just the wisdom of nature recycling every little bit of available energy or nutrition.

This hidden chatter among trees, insects and micro-organisms is difficult for us to hear but early fall color is too loud to miss. So what should you do? Well, you can amaze your friends as you point out trees under stress. If the tree is under your care you might like to ask it what the trouble is.

Look at the branches. Are they cracked or weeping? Look at the trunk. Is the bark falling off in spots? Are there mushrooms growing out of it? Look at the roots. Do they have room to fan out on the soil surface and collect water? Does the trunk go straight into the ground like a telephone pole or does it flare out like trees in the forest?

Congratulate yourself because your trees are talking and you are listening to them. Now what?

  1. Mulching your tree out to the branch spread doubles root volume so it is always a great help.
  2. Fertilizing is sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful.
  3. Spraying, like fertilizing is sometimes helpful or harmful.
  4. Maybe its time to call your favorite arborist. We love talking to your trees and they love it when we listen.

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