Evaluating Your Tree’s Health

By on April 4, 2018

Landscape & Garden Editor Kevin Johnson Gives Tips to Help Us Diagnose What’s Killing Our Trees

Recently I received an email from a gentleman who was concerned about the health of a large oak tree growing in the proximity of his cabin. He was wondering if I would come out and examine the tree and diagnose any potential problems as the tree posed a structural threat. I explained that while my company is very engaged in the treatment of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, as well as offering lawn fertilization and weed abatement programs, that particular service isn’t something we provide. I was able to forward an article titled “Is my tree dying?” that appeared in a recent issue of the Urban Ag Council Magazine. Several professionals from various government offices contributed to this article. This article provided him with enough information about whether or not to have his tree removed.

It seems everywhere I go in North Georgia I see sick or dead trees. We’ve been in and out of drought now for several years, which adversely affects the health of our forests. We’ve yet to see the impact the drought of 2016 will have. The reality is– all trees will eventually die. Here I will touch on the highlights of “Is My Tree Dying: Evaluating Tree Health” so that homeowners can self-diagnose a potentially sick tree.

3 Basic Steps for Evaluating Your Tree’s Health

Inspect the Root Zone and Trunk Flare
Several years ago I managed the grounds department at a local college where the campus was full of trees in decline. Over the years the root zones of many trees were compromised by the construction of new sidewalks and structures. Also mowing and trimming around most trees led to compaction of the root zones and damage to the base of the trees. Our maintenance practices, due to time restraints, were to prune off dead limbs instead addressing the underlying issues. Finally over time we began to aerate beneath the trees and create mulch beds in order to revive and protect these incredible resources.

When evaluating a tree, start by looking at the roots and trunk flare. Healthy trees are wider at the base. When the base of the tree is damaged it has a tougher time moving essential nutrients and water. This leads to an unhealthy tree that becomes increasingly more unstable. Also inspect the root zone of the tree. Are there fruiting bodies growing in this area? This can be a sign of root decay which is a serious problem. Find out what kind of construction took place in the vicinity of the tree. Have the roots been damaged or has the soil level been changed?

Evaluate the Trunk
One morning I arrived on campus and noticed a large hemlock had blown over in a storm the previous night. This tree appeared healthy but once it snapped a few feet up, we discovered it wasn’t. The tree fell in an area where students generally walked. Thankfully it happened while most were sleeping and no one was injured. The hemlock was full of heart rot. When evaluating your tree look at the trunk for fungi or injuries. Fungi often reveal internal disease and injuries to the tree’s bark impair its ability transport nutrients.

Look Upward into the Crown
Take a good hard look at the branches and leaves. I have an oak growing in my backyard with obvious crown dieback. At some point I will have to remove the only shade tree growing in my backyard. I’ve seen all kinds of premature leaf drop and fungal leaf spot on a variety of trees now for several years. Sometimes these vary by season due to weather conditions. Look at the leaves of your tree and see if they appear healthy. How about the branches? Are they dying? Might there be an insect problem? These observations may indicate a more serious problem.

If you are concerned about your trees, seek out a good arborist or contact your county extension agent. No one wants to lose a mature tree, since we just can’t replace them in our life. If a tree is growing in the proximity of your home, and you cringe every time the wind blows, it might be the safety of your family and property takes precedence.

Kevin Johnson is the owner of Green Leaf Lawn and Ornamental, LLC, based in Blue Ridge. For more information about the devastating hemlock woolly adelgid and treatment options, Kevin can be reached toll free at 866-883-2420, by email at growitgreen@etcmail.com Or check out his web site at www.wetreatlawns.com or visit www.hemlocks.org for more info.