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Missouri Ag News Headlines
It's Time to Water Your Trees!
By: Missouri Department of Conservation - 08/10/2018

In case you haven't noticed, it's dry out there--really dry. According to Drought Monitor, most of Missouri is currently experiencing soil moisture conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. This lack of rain is clearly having an effect on the grass and plants in your yard, but how is it affecting your trees? The short answer: in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly.

Contrary to popular belief, trees aren't tapping into some magical water table 10 feet below the soil surface. In fact, around 90% of a tree's root system is actually in the top 18 inches of soil. When soil dries out during severe droughts, trees suffer as their water-conducting fine feeder roots are killed. The immediate result is leaf scorch or even branch dieback in the crown. What's worse is that this root damage can lead to much bigger problems in the years to come. Slow killers like Armillaria root disease can creep in and capitalize on stressed roots, slowly causing a tree to decline and die up to 10 years after a major drought.

Armillaria isn't the only disease to worry about--drought-stressed trees are less able to defend themselves against attacks by many insects and diseases. Signs of wood-boring insects are often noticed for a few years following a drought. Outbreaks of Hypoxylon canker, a native fungus that kills the water conducting tissues of hardwood trees, can devastate drought-stressed oaks, particularly older trees in the red oak group. Even the dreaded Dutch elm disease has an easier time killing elms in drought years, as evidenced by the dying elms all across the state this summer.

So, what can you do to help prevent these bad things from happening to your trees? Water them! We recommend watering established trees every two weeks during dry periods with 10 gallons of water per diameter-inch of a tree's trunk (measured at 4.5 feet above the ground). Try to water as much of the root zone as possible. For trees less than 3 years old, consider watering them every 7-10 days. Be careful when watering evergreens in heavy clay soil as it is easy to damage their sensitive roots with too much water. Consider applying a 3-inch layer of shredded bark mulch around a tree's root zone to help moderate soil temperatures and moisture levels.

Watering that big tree in your front yard may add $50 to your August water bill but cutting it down after it dies of drought-related issues could cost you thousands to remove it, not to mention lost property value and energy savings. Plus, you know how long it takes to replace a 70-year-old tree? That's right--70 years. Water your trees!

Learn more about tree care in our Urban Tree Decline forest health alert.

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