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Common Summer Tree Problems

Stan Rosenthal
Extension Agent
Leon County

It is that time of year again when I begin getting an overwhelming amount of calls on tree problems. Many insect and disease problems have had sufficient time to develop and damage a tree. Non biological stresses such as lightning, drought and heat stresses also have weakened some trees. During the summer, temperatures are high and the physiological process of trees such as transpiration and respiration are running at peak rates. So if any part of a tree (roots, etc.) is compromised, the tree quickly can become overwhelmed and begin to decline. Over time, this decline can get to the point where we see visible signs that we can recognize. These visible signs may include changing leaf color, leaves turning brown, loss of leaves, visible lightning strikes or sap (often being discolored) oozing from a tree.

Once these signs show themselves sometimes it may be to late too do anything. Often, especially when leaves only turn partially brown or are eaten by an insect, the damage is only temporary if the tree is not under additional stresses like being a newly planted tree.

Other times, the thing to do is remove the tree to help prevent the spread of this problem to other trees. This is often the case when pine beetles are discovered in a tree. Trees that are already turning brown are just breeding areas for more beetles. If this is happening, adjacent pine trees will be at risk. Then you are likely to have more trees to remove in the long run.

If it is an insect consuming leaves, such as a caterpillar, and the tree is not under stress I often recommend to just let nature take its course. Probably something else like birds will consume the caterpillars or their adult butterflies and moths. This then helps adults raise their babies, as birds are often looking for high protein sources like insects to feed to them this time of year.

Diagnosing a tree problem and finding a cure is not always easy. Generally the best thing to do to keep trees healthy is to have a good mulch bed underneath their crown so the soil is protected and the nutrients that are in leaves and seeds, etc. are recycled. Also, growing trees in groups with proper spacing allows trees to have protection from each other but minimizes competition between them. Trees in this situation are often less stressed and thus less likely to succumb to insect and disease problems.