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How to Tell if Your Tree is Sick

Trees, like people, fall ill for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes a tree is diseased — sometimes the disease is treatable and sometimes it is not. However, the same symptom that appears when your tree has been attacked by a virus, bacterial infection or pests is often quite similar to a tree that’s simply in need of better care. Fortunately, when you provide appropriate care from the get-go, it really takes a lot of guesswork out of determining how you can make your tree healthy again.

Getting to Know Your Tree

It would be wonderful if you could call up a tree specialist, say “my tree is sick, what do I do?” and receive a definitive answer. However, there are thousands of species of trees which react differently to different geographical regions. The more you know about your tree and the types of problems it’s susceptible to, the easier it is to prevent problems from arising. So keep track of the following information by examining your trees on a regular basis:

  • What species and variety is your tree?
  • How big is your tree? Think height and spread.
  • How old is your tree?
  • What colour and shape are the leaves?
  • Does your tree fruit or flower? If so, describe what the fruit and/or flowers look like.

Preventive Care is the Best Care

Good news and bad news. The bad first: You’re the most likely culprit when it comes to your tree becoming sick.

Now for the good: Healthy trees are more likely than weakened trees to avoid pest and disease problems and to recover from injuries. Additionally, as long as you provide optimal care, if your tree becomes ill, you’ll be able to immediately rule out poor care as the cause.

The following care issues are the leading cause of sickly trees, so keep up with them and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy garden:

  • Improper soil type
  • Too much or too little water
  • Competing with weeds or other plants for nutrients
  • Accidental damage (think poor pruning habits or injuring your tree with a lawn mower)
  • Poor soil drainage
  • Improper sun exposure

Making a Diagnosis

When it comes to trees, making a diagnosis can be challenging because many symptoms are associated with multiple issues. Yellowed leaves, for instance, can mean your tree has experienced root injury, the soil pH is too high or your tree may have a pest infestation or a bacterial or fungal infection.

How do you make sense of all of this? Keep a tree journal. Write down how you’ve been caring for the tree in addition to any abnormalities you notice. For instance, look for leaf problems such as changes in shape (like curling or wilting) or colour (like bronzing or the appearance of dots). You can attempt to narrow down what’s happening with your tree on your own by conducting an online search for your particular tree to determine which health problems it’s susceptible to.

Call in the Professionals

Your best bet is contacting an arborist or your local university extension agent to weigh in on the problem. You’ll be asked to either send in a leaf sample or have someone take a look at your tree. Professionals will offer a reliable diagnosis while creating a treatment program tailored to your particular tree and region.

Remember: Never assume your tree is too sick to recover until you’ve spoken to a professional. Trees often appear sickly but can spring back to health by the following season when provided with the proper care.

So before you call in tree removal services to have your sick tree hauled away, realize you may be acting prematurely. If your tree is diseased and needs to be removed, however, simply take into account those methods of care that can help prevent tree death and apply them to the other trees in your landscape. Nature doesn’t always lend your garden the easiest hand, but once you have knowledge regarding what to watch for and how to keep your trees at their healthiest regardless of what enters your garden, you’re setting yourself up for years of happy tree gazing.

By Tarah Damask

Do you think you may have a sick tree? Take a look at eieihome’s directory of arborists.

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