Seriously Saturated Soils

Seriously Saturated Soils

The National Weather Service in Wakefield just confirmed that Winter 2023/2024 was the #1 wettest and #8 warmest on record for the Richmond area. Not only is this information interesting, it is critical to help keep our team of Arborists aware of current and future trends to watch out for regarding tree and shrub health. Read on below to see what Arborscapes can do to help!

Unseen Stress: The Delayed Impact on Trees and Shrubs

Did you know that trees and shrubs don’t show signs of stress right away immediately following an unusual weather event? If we humans stop drinking and eating normally, we rapidly decline. Trees and shrubs have a much slower response to environmental stressors with factors relating to their biology and growth patterns:

  1. Long Lifespan: Trees and shrubs are typically long-living organisms, with some species living for decades or even centuries. Their slow metabolic rates and longer life cycles mean that they may take a considerable amount of time to show visible signs of stress.
  2. Adaptive Mechanisms: Trees and shrubs have evolved various mechanisms to cope with environmental stresses such as drought, excessive moisture, temperature fluctuations, and nutrient deficiencies. These adaptive mechanisms can help them maintain health and function even under challenging conditions, at lease in the short term.
  3. Storage Reserves: Trees often have stored reserves of water, nutrients, and energy in their roots, stems, and leaves. These reserves can buffer them against short-term stressors and allow them to survive periods of adversity without immediate visible consequences.
  4. Slow Growth Rate: Compared to many other plants and organisms, trees and shrubs generally have a slower growth rate. This slower growth means that changes in their health or condition may not be immediately noticeable and may take months, seasons, or even years to become apparent.

Navigating the Consequences: 

Understanding long-term impact of weather on trees and shrubs is crucial for proper assessment and management. Weather patterns can have cumulative effects on trees. For example, a particularly dry summer, followed by a warm/wet winter can weaken trees the following Spring. Here is a lost of common concerns regarding a wet winter or overwatering in general:

  1. Root Rot: One of the most significant consequences of overwatering is root rot. When soil remains constantly saturated, it deprives the rots of oxygen, leading to the growth of anaerobic bacteria that attack the roots. This can cause root to, which hinders the tree’s ability to absorb water and nutrients, eventually leading to wilting, yellowing leaves, and overall decline.
  2. Poor Soil Aeration: Excessive watering can compact the soil and reduce its ability to hold oxygen. Compacted soil restricts root growth and can lead to suffocation of the roots, similar to root rot. This poor soil aeration also effects beneficial soil organisms that contribute to nutrient cycling and soil health.
  3. Nutrient Leaching: When there is too many water in the soil, nutrients can be leached away. This leaching can lead to nutrient deficiencies in trees and shrubs, affecting their overall health and vigor.
  4. Stunted Growth: Paradoxically, overwatering can lead to stunted growth in trees and shrubs. When roots are constantly saturated, they may not develop properly or explore a larger area for nutrients. This can result in a smaller root system that cannot support robust growth above the ground.
  5. Susceptibility to pests and diseases: Overwatered plants are more susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf spot, and various root rots. Additionally, stressed plants are more attractive to pests like aphids and spider mites, and ambrosia beetles- further compromising their health.
  6. Root Suffocation: In severe cases of overwatering, roots can suffocate and die off. This can lead to widespread decline and even death of the tree or shrub if not addressed promptly.

Case Study: The Aftermath of 2018…

In 2018, Richmond experienced the second-wettest year on record, accumulating a total of 63.73 inches of rainfall. During the following year, 2019, our office received a unprecedented number of calls regarding dead tree. Many of these dead trees were attributed, in part, to infestations of the Granulate Ambrosia Beetle.

Ambrosia beetles are typically attracted to stressed/damaged trees. Unfortunately once you start to see evidence of borer activity ex. browning and presence of frass tubes, it is usually too late to save the tree.

Our urban forest lost many beautiful trees over the next 3-5 years following the deluge of 2018.

Most Susceptible Species: 

Here is a list of a few of the more susceptible species in our area that are more likely to show stress from this Winter’s wet weather.

  • Arborvitae (Thuja)
  • Chestnut Oaks
  • White Oaks
  • Boxwoods
  • Rhododendron
  • Maples
  • Cherries (and other Prunus species)
  • Japanese Hollies
  • Young/new plants and older trees

What can Arborscapes do to help?

  1. Soil Amendments- Arborscapes fertilization is formulated using blends tailored to the specific soil conditions most commonly found in the our Mid-Atlantic region. Fertilizer is injected directly into the root system to help alleviate leeching due to excessive rainfall. Our soil amendments are much more concentrated than anything that can be purchased at a garden store to give trees as much benefit as possible.
  2. Preventative Borer/Beetle Treatments- Arborscapes’ preventative borer treatments are our first line of defense against potential borer infestations. Because beetles kill trees so rapidly (sometimes within a few weeks of noticing decline), it is important to preventatively treat and protect at-risk and valuable trees on your property. Arborscapes’ use of “growing degree days” to monitor beetle activity and implement targeted treatments exemplifies a proactive and science-based approach to help safeguard and protect thousands of trees each year around the Richmond area.
  3. Growth Regulation- Growth regulators are substances used to modify the growth and development of trees cope with environmental stressors such as drought, heat, or nutrient deficiencies. They can improve water and nutrient uptake efficiency, enhance root development, and increase tolerance to adverse conditions, leading to healthier and more resilient trees. Growth regulators have been found to enhance tree defenses against pests and diseases by strengthening cell walls and promoting natural resistance mechanisms.

What can Arborscapes do to help?- BE PROACTIVE!

Being proactive in tree care involves taking preventive measures to maintain the health and well-being of your trees, rather than waiting for problems to arise. Two of the most important actions your arborist can take to be proactive in tree care include: Regular inspections and proper pruning.

  • Regular inspections- Conduct regular tree inspections to assess the overall health, structural integrity, and potential risks of trees on the property. This can help identify issues early before they become major problems. We recommend annual inspections, especially if there is a tree in question. It’s a proactive approach that can save time, money, and potential safety hazards in the long run.
  • Proper pruning- Perform routine pruning and trimming to remove dead or diseased branches, improve tree structure, and promote healthy growth. Proper pruning can also reduce the risk of branches falling during storms.