CERTIFIED TEXAS EXPERT GARDENER — Utilize TreeMD to easily diagnose ailing trees

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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Amazingly gardeners another year has almost concluded, wow!

Typically, cold weather sends me sends me scampering inside, muttering something (okay, normally griping ‘not-so-nicely’ about the cold temps), but lately I’ll admit the cooler temperatures make outdoor activities much more enjoyable, especially while working in the vegetable gardens and flower beds.

This gardener is already ‘preparing’ for spring gardens and reviewing gardening catalogues … intermittently, though I will set aside some time to thoroughly investigating each catalogue while searching for “new” varieties of plants and seeds to try this spring.

I’ll provide thoughts on the best (my opinion) seed and plant catalogues for spring ‘24 soon.

Today, let’s reflect on our recently past summer experience and stress placed on our trees and help them where possible. The extremely high daytime temperatures we experienced for such an extended time, coupled with severe drought conditions spells disaster.

These stressors can create even more burden for trees creating an opportunity for pathogens to take hold on our struggling trees. All pathogen classes require some type of mechanism to enter a host (tree) but the pathogen must also evade the tree’s immune system.

Local trees are targets for pathogens accumulate and take hold, as we have experienced extreme climate change: artic conditions provided by winter storm Uri through our most recent blistering droughts! It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ pathogens begin affecting trees, gardeners need resources to help them determine how to assist the tree.

This is a great time to scrutinize each tree on your property and make notes detailing findings.

Does the trees canopy have numerous ‘dead’ or ‘diseased’ limbs?

Is the tree’s trunk damaged or dying?

Visually inspect each tree and inspect the trees’ trunk for sap leaking from the trunk, limbs or discoloration as each characteristic indicates that the tree is severely stressed.

The notes taken now will aid you in spring if problems develop. Understanding that most trees are resilient and that there are ways to prevent conditions from worsening.

We have received some rainfall, but the total amount received remains fall below normal for this time of year.

My recommendation to ensure trees retain moisture by following the tips below since these practices will help conserve moisture and increase soil water retention:

  • Compost is the best choice for adding nutrients to the soil and it improves moisture availability. Do not fertilize plants, trees or shrubs during fall or winter months since fertilizer requires water for activation but also sends the “wrong” signal to plants, as winter is meant for dormancy (conservation of energy).
  • Maintain a consistent mulch layer (3 to 4-inch layer of mulch) beneath the trees ‘canopy and is the ‘critical’ root zone. This will reduce moisture loss, even in winter moisture loss is an issue! Never place mulch against the tree’s trunk.
  • Never prune trees or shrubs during the winter months. Pruning forces energy to be expended to seal over wounds. Our trees need to hold onto as much energy as possible, it will help them to ‘heal’ from environmental stressors these past two years!
  • Avoid disturbing the soil beneath trees canopy, also known as the drip line. It is never a good idea to dig holes for deep watering, this is not effective and allows the soil to dry more quickly.
  • Remember root disturbance or compaction reduces the ability of the tree to absorb and transport water.

Before we realize it spring will arrive, detailed notes captured now for each tree will prove to be invaluable if you later determine a tree is under attack from a pathogen.

Texas A&M Forest Service launched an application which allows users to quickly identify possible “causes” of tree problems, which “stem” (sorry, couldn’t help myself) from insects, diseases, or other factors.

The TreeMD app is part of the Texas Forest Service information Portal, located at website: texasforestinfo.tamu.edu/treemd.

It’s a useful diagnostic tool allowing users the ability to rapidly locate results from a large database when specific tree information is entered: species, symptoms, and affected area, i.e. trunk, limbs or leaves which aid in diagnosing the issue.

If the user is unable to determine the actual cause, they can also upload tree images for a forestry professional to provide more detailed information.

The app was specifically created to provide users the ability to begin the process diagnosing a “sick” tree. While TreeMD is a useful tool in investigating potential tree problems, it is not a substitute for the recommendations and management planning of a professional tree service provider.

Send Certified Texas Expert Gardener John Green your questions and please continue sending comments to jongreene57@gmail.com.