Local News

Drought Causing Distress for Trees

Posted October 8, 2007

— Most of North Carolina is in dire straits when it comes to the drought, but a lack of rain is only half the problem.

Record-setting heat, lingering so late into the year, is causing more trouble for yards than many realize. Green grass is long forgotten. Now, trees and shrubs are also showing signs of distress.

“This has been about as bad as I can remember,” Mark Weathington, assistant director of horticultural science at N.C. State University, said Monday.

The Triangle's rain deficit is just over 8 inches, and WRAL meteorologists said there is no significant rain coming anytime soon.

Many younger trees and those already struggling are dying. Older trees, with stronger roots, stand a better chance, but are continuing to get weaker and are more susceptible to insects. Weaker trees could mean more problems during the next big wind or ice storm.

“With this kind of drought, the wood is going to be a little more brittle. It's not going to be supple. You have a big ice event (in conditions) like that, and there is probably going to be more damage then there would be otherwise,” Weathington said.

As for yard trees, brown and bare now does not necessarily mean they are gone for good.

“I wouldn't panic. I wouldn't go out and get someone to cut the trees down,” Robert Trickel with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources said.

According to Trickel, some trees dropped leaves early this year and went dormant to protect themselves. What happens next spring, he said, will be the true indicator.

“What we can do now is watch, wait and start working on the next time we have a drought and try to have healthier trees and healthier forests,” he said.

The combination of dry wood and leaves falling early could also mean trouble for the forest fire season.

“We generally get more and hotter fires when that occurs,” Trickel said.

There are a few things you can do to protect trees during a drought. Try putting 4 inches of organic mulch around them, but keep the mulch at least six inches away from the trunk.

Fertilizer can cause trees to grow new leaves, and new leaves could cause more stress, so you might want to avoid fertilizer during the drought.

The hot weather set three records and tied one other in the Triangle this summer. August was the hottest August ever and the warmest month ever. It was also the hottest summer ever, and there was a tie for the highest temperature ever at RDU at 105 degrees.


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  • nannybj1 Oct 9, 2007

    the weather drought definately has played a toll on the trees. My pear tree is really confused as it is in full bloom. do not think i have ever seen a pear tree bloom in october. has anyone else?

  • TheWB Oct 9, 2007

    Palms and cactus people, palms and cactus are what we need here in this desert environment. Now, if we just had the snow packs like the Rockies have on top of our Smokey Mountains we'd be all set.

  • Michael Kenyon Oct 9, 2007

    @Myword - "Did they make up that name Trickel?"

    No, in fact there used to be a NASCAR driver named Dick Trickel.

    And, of course, what's a worse disease than Carolina Fever? Dick Crumb.

  • charlesboyer Oct 9, 2007

    "We conserve water, or we water the trees? You can't do both."

    Yes, you can. You use gray-water that would normally go into the sewer. Used water from baths/showers, water used to wash dishes, etc. Contractors can reroute internal plumbing in homes to a sistern used to collect gray and rainwater (when we get rain) and it can be used to water trees and shrubs quite easily.

    In fact, I watered a Japanese maple with dishwater runoff last night. It will probably like the minimal amount of foodstuffs in the water, when it decays it's called fertilizer.

  • lovecarolinagutters Oct 9, 2007

    Sucess story...I dug and planted random Silver Maples I got from my Mom's yard in Apex. One last year, one this year. The late freeze killed the leaves. But, they came back and both are doing beautifully. And no, I don't water them. ;]

  • shine Oct 9, 2007

    I was riding into Windsor NC the other day on 17 on the way into Edenton. There are trees planted on both sides of the road - not necessarily 'established' but decent size plantings over 10' tall. I think every one of them is dead..... The foliage is brown and it just is an example of what the drought has done. Must be 3 dozen or more trees.

  • Tired Of Excuses Oct 9, 2007

    The drought is causing distress for trees... no kidding.

  • jetset Oct 9, 2007

    We are having alot of our boxwoods turning brown too. I guess it is from lack of water as well(?)

  • peacebee Oct 8, 2007

    I had some saplings planted last fall, and they did great - came out this spring, and that freeze killed the leaves...and then they just never came back. Now the drought...I am going to wait until spring, but i wonder if they will revive...

  • oldrebel Oct 8, 2007

    Last time I made up to the top of Morrow Mountain I noticed many of the trees were in various stages of distress. What makes it a double whammy is when trees are in distress they're more subject to insects and disease than when they're healthy.