so how do I tell ...

daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)September 12, 2011

There has been a lot of discussion here about mature trees dying because of the lack of water. So now that we're getting into fall, the question becomes -- how do I tell?

I have a 60' pecan, down in a creek bed, but still about 10 feet above what is now the water table, that started showing lots of brown leaves in early August. I watered, and about half the leaves are still green.

But now, quite suddenly, I have an 120' (yes, BIG!!) American elm down there that is losing all of it's leaves. Now, these kinds of trees are pretty drought-tolerant, but still ...

So, the questions I'm asking myself are whether this tree is dying, or just stressed enough to give up it's leaves a little early. Is that a survival strategy for trees in drought conditions? I think normally it would lose them in late October. Is that right? If the former, it's probably too late to do anything about it.

I need someone with a lot of tree-smarts.

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scotty66(8 Hutto TX)

wait and see game in the spring.
the real bad news... is that we may see the same drought conditions next year.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 6:37PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Actually I see now that TAMU/TFS says that premature leaf drop and fall coloration is a sign of drought stress, not necessarily death. But now that I look around, I see a lot of trees losing their leaves more or less uniformly over the canopy, many of which are not obviously stressed. I have a cedar elm that is near the house that I've actually put plenty of water on, and it's leaves are uniformly turning as well. All these leaves were never wilted, just turning yellow/brown.

The pecan I referred to was different. Entire branches had leaves that turned brown.

Looking at the neighborhood, it's like an early autumn. Weird.

One wonders if the summer heat, more than drought stress at the roots, causes early leaf drop.

It's true that deciduous trees build up energy reserves in the summer and start buds for next year in the fall. So even if the tree doesn't die, there could be noticeable effects next year in the canopy, I guess.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 10:19PM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

I think there is going to be massive tree failure if we have another winter like the last two. I sure hope it's a wet and mild winter.

I wouldn't be surprised if the trees were just shutting down early for fall. They're tired after that crazy summer!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 10:46PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Yes, a cold nasty winter would be a recipe for disaster.

You know, once the leaves start to fall, rainfall becomes a non-issue for the trees. A huge rainfall when the leaves are coming down won't help the buds form or let the tree put away chemical energy for the spring. With early leaf drop, these trees are losing a whole month of energy storage. Even if it isn't dead, the tree is all done until spring. Let's just keep our fingers crossed. At least some rain will bring our lake levels and water table back up.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 11:20PM
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scotty66(8 Hutto TX)

after that so called "cool" front came through last week... my yard and patio was filled with oak leaves (mostly leaves) and a few large limbs came down as well.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 11:54PM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

Glad no one was hurt scotty! EEEK

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 11:44AM
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weldontx(z 8a TX)

speaking of cool front and 60 degree nights. I even have two daffodils that have come up. These confused plants are getting me confused. Nat'l Weather predicts another La Nina year --
warm and dry winter.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 10:49PM
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"Dan" --

On Sept 3 Neil Sperry had a column in the San Antonio paper. When I saw your post I dug through the recycle bin to find it for ya. Someone asked him about two large trees that looked dead because the leaves were turning brown. They wanted to get rid of them so they could do some dozer work in the area. He said "Leave them alone! Premature browning and leaf drop are trees' coping mechanisms for extreme drought. Millions of native Texas trees are doing the same thing this year, and most of them will come through just fine. Sit tight. They'll be fine once we get some fall rains."

He's the guy with the "tree smarts" so I hope he's right...there are millions of trees out there that really need that rain. Hope you see some soon wherever you are.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 10:50PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Some of you may have seen this already, but if not here it a link on how to water tree during this drought.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to water your trees ...

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 12:57PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Patty, thanks! That wisdom from Neil Sperry is *exactly* what I was looking for, and from a highly reputable source. Premature leaf drop is indeed a survival strategy. I feel better now!

And Roselee, that's a good video. Some of that info is in text on the TAMU/TFS website, but the video is much clearer. It too suggests that premature leaf drop is a natural drought response.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 8:50PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

.... and another reference to premature leaf drop by pecan trees because of drought conditions.

This makes the point that such leaf drop can be especially noticeable in a drought that follows a lot of spring rain. That seems to have been an issue last year.

My neighbor across the street tends pecan trees on his front lawn, which gets plenty of water. Those trees are still bright green.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 9:12PM
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