I thought I was being proactive the other week discussing the tree problems that can occur when we get big storms; but it seems lately I’m getting more calls about general tree health. Tree issues tend to compound over time, so it’s important that we notice tree decline earlier rather than later. Let’s cover a few common reasons why your trees may not be doing well.

            Firstly, consider the age of the tree. While certain tree species can live for hundreds of years in their natural habitats, those used in landscaping typically have shorter lifespans, sometimes lasting only 10-15 years. If a tree is in decline due to age, there’s usually little we can do to reverse it.

            The second and most common issue is environmental stress. Trees can be affected by weather patterns and events that may go unnoticed until long after they occur. High winds, extreme temperatures (both cold and hot), drought stress, and other factors can put stress on trees. Stressed trees may have browning or dying foliage, look unhealthy, and become more vulnerable to disease and pests. Generally, an otherwise healthy tree will recover from environmental stress given enough time, usually at least a year.

            Another problem we encounter is planting stress, which can be related to environmental conditions or improper planting practices. It’s crucial to select tree species appropriate for our region, prepare the planting site properly, and provide appropriate care, especially sufficient water, once the tree is in the ground. Avoiding injuries, such as hitting the tree trunk with a weed eater, is also important. Correcting these issues through research and proper planting techniques can often prevent the decline and eventual death of the tree.

            Lastly, disease and pests can cause significant damage and decline in trees. Healthy trees can usually fend off these issues on their own. However, a tree that is already in decline due to other factors is more susceptible to diseases and insects that can accelerate its demise. In other words, a lot of disease and pest issues are secondary to another problem. Depending on the tree species and purpose, we may want to be proactive with the use of pesticides to prevent disease and pests.  For example, fruit trees need significantly more involvement from owners to combat disease and insect problems than our ornamental trees do. Unfortunately, treatment options for diseases and pests are often limited, especially for mature trees that may require specialized equipment for proper care.

If you suspect your tree is in decline, my recommendation is often to “wait and see,” as there may be little we can do to address environmental stress and other contributing factors. In the case of a disease or pest problem, identification is possible, but treatment options may be limited. For smaller trees, appropriate pesticide use might be feasible, but larger, mature trees may require professional assistance. If you need help with a tree issue, please feel free to contact me at uge3181@uga.edu or 706-359-3233.

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