TREES THAT APPEAR TO SUDDENLY DIE, by Larry Williams UF/IFAS Extension Agent

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It’s not uncommon to see a
tree suddenly turn brown during this time of year. These trees stand out
because their leaves are brown during a time of year when they are supposed to
be green. Other surrounding trees of the same species may still be green. So the
brown tree stands out like a sore thumb.


But what appears to be a
sudden death actually involves much more time to occur. Some tree research may
help explain part of this problem.


Tree research conducted a
number years ago showed that at least fifty percent of a tree’s root system
would be non-functioning or dead before the tree exhibited above ground evidence
that it had a problem. This generally means that by the time a person notices
the problem it’s too late.


When you see a tree that
appears to suddenly die, you are usually dealing with a tree that has had
problems for quite some time (sometimes months or even years prior to the
tree’s death).


When all the leaves on a
tree suddenly turn brown but are still hanging on the tree and are firmly
attached, this is an indication of severe root injury. Usually a combination of
factors over a long period of time caused extensive root injury. The tree had
been functioning with a weakened, smaller root system. The extended hot weather
ends up being the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” for these
already stressed/weakened trees.


Some common causes for lethal root injury in trees include
construction damage, floods, drought, storms and herbicide injury, including
weed and feed products. It can be a combination of several factors that
ultimately does the tree in. Vascular diseases and insects may be involved,
also. But are usually secondary, occurring after the roots are injured.


The bad news is there is nothing that can be done to correct this
kind of injury. These types of problems are prevented, not cured.


The initial damage could
have been caused years prior to the tree’s leaves suddenly turning brown. Based
on my experience, trees in this category usually do not recover. I think many
homeowners want me to tell them there is a product on the shelf at some garden
supply store that they can purchase and apply to the dying or dead tree and it
magically comes back. But instead I have to tell them the tree is dead
– it’s not going to come back.


Even so, many people are reluctant to accept the
loss of a once nice tree.

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