Local News

Drought Causing Distress for Trees

Posted October 8, 2007 6:23 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2007 8:39 p.m. EDT

— 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.