“I think that I should never see a poem lovely as a tree” is the opening line in Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees,” which goes on to describe the grace and majesty of well, trees.
After seeing the glorious enormity of the California redwoods, the resilient and long-lived baobabs in Africa, and climbing the ladder-like branches of our own southern magnolias to the tippy-top branches, I’d have to agree. Trees are essential to our life, often beautiful, and even as I write this I can hear the rising and falling crescendo of the wind moving through the forest and it is quite lovely.
Unfortunately, I never receive calls about lovely trees. No one calls me up and invites me to admire a particularly pleasant specimen. This time of year especially, I get a number of calls about trees that are diseased, insect-damaged or otherwise suffering. Below are some common tree issues to look for in your landscape.
Certain caterpillars and beetles will eat through leaves on a tree; damaged leaves often die and drop. Evidence that your trees are being nibbled include holes in the leaf, frass, and you might even see the perpetrator still munching away, although often the damage is not noticed until a majority of leaves and the insects are already gone. Healthy trees can withstand defoliation, and they will draw on their reserves to put out new leaves. The damage may be unsightly, but unless trees are defoliated 2-3 years in a row, chemical treatment is rarely recommended.
Another common issue is unsightly spots on leaves. Often fungal, these diseases depend on the right environment to develop; namely, hot and humid weather. Fungal diseases can also make leaves drop prematurely. Like with insect defoliation, trees can recover from fungal defoliation. It is important to remove leaves after they fall to reduce the chance that spores on them re-infect trees the following year.
Most trees decline because of their environmental conditions: drought, compacted soil, waterlogged soil, planted too deep, damaged by construction, girdling roots, rotting from the insides because of past injuries. There are a lot of things that can, over time, kill a tree, though often these are less easy to diagnose, and many times it is not evident that something is wrong until it is too late. It is a good time of year to inspect trees for evidence of decline. First, check the top of the tree. Are branches dead or is the canopy sparse? Dying branches at the top of the tree can be a sign that trees are in decline; likewise, if you see mushrooms on the trunk or coming from the roots, the tree is already in decline.
For more information on signs of a downward spiral in trees, see the UGA Extension Circular 1100 “Is my Tree Dying?” (https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C1100&title=Is%20My%20Tree%20Dying?)
This is a simplified overview of diseased, distressed and dying trees; there are many ways that lovely trees can become unlovely, but this should give an indication of how severe the problem is and the likelihood of recovery. As far as the lovely trees, I highly recommend a hammock and a Sunday afternoon nap with the sun filtering through the leaves.