Hot dry summers and winter winds can often cause damage to trees and shrubs. Drought reduces the amount of water available in the soil that trees can take up. Injury to the tree occurs when more water is lost through transpiration than is available in the plant.
Symptoms of drought stress include: wilting of foliage, sparse canopy of off-color and undersized leaves, leaf scorch, yellowing, and premature fall coloration. Closer inspection of the branches will reveal twig growth and small, poorly formed buds. Prolonged drought will cause branch and root death and dieback or death of the entire tree. De-icing salts and fertilizers can compound the situation burning root and leaf tissue. Drought stress often weaken trees, making them more susceptible to attack by some fungi (root rots and branch cankers), and wood boring insects that come in to “finish off” a dying tree.
Some species of trees and shrubs are more susceptible to droughts, while others can withstand dry conditions. Trees such as maple, dogwood, ash, beech, linden, and tuliptree tend to be effected by droughts more than oaks, elms, and honeylocust. Newly transplanted trees are very suceptible t damage from dry soil conditions because they have lost approximately 90% of their root systems when they are dug and moved.
Midsummer in Pennsylvania is most often dry and hot. It is important to monitor rainfall in our landscapes and be able to recognize drought stress symptoms in our landscapes. In the short term it might mean scorched leaves, daily wilts, slowed growth, and early leaf drop. Long term droughts can become devastating with increased disease and insect susceptibility, loss of branches, root dieback, and ultimately death of the plant. Once we learn to recognize the symptoms of drought we can take action by irrigating our landscapes or working to prevent future drought through design, plant selection, mulching and more.
Promote Plant Health – PSU Horticulture Factsheet that discusses drought and insect issues
Drought and the Landscape, by Dr. Jim Sellmer, Penn State Department of Horticulture
Drought Damage to Trees – research by Dr. Kim Coder, University of Georgia
Creating a Drought Resistant Landscape, a Penn State article
Trees and Drought, a Penn State School of Forest Resources article
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