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Devil’s Den Diary: Turmoil of a Tree

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August 21, 2011 by wcobserver

By Megan Webb

For the past three weeks Devils Den State Park has been suffering from drought. Due to the severity of the drought a burn ban has been placed upon the park. Like humans and animals, trees suffer during this time as well. What would it be like to be a tree in these conditions? I imagine it as follows:

I have been standing tall here for many a decade. My roots have been stretching down into the earth and soaking up nutrients as I have grown and matured. I have lived through many floods, earthquakes, snow storms, sleet, hail, and other weather. The worst thing I have lived through is drought.

It has been many weeks since it has rained. My roots are becoming sore from lack of water in the soil. Soon, I will have what they call stem dieback. Stem dieback is the loss of fine feeder roots. As the soil becomes dry during the hottest summer months, my fine roots in the upper soil surface will increase in number to try and get what little water is available. However, they will begin to die if soil remains dry, and my root system will be out of balance with the amount of foliage found aboveground.

My leaves are not doing so well. Because of the lack of water they are either wilting, drooping, turning yellow, showing early fall color, turning brown at the tips or margins, curling or show all of these symptoms. I am a very dried out. As the drought continues my leaves start falling off. The creak of my branches echoes the sadness within my bark as one by one my leaves spiral to the ground. It is unbearably hot, and like humans and animals I need more water now.

Your tree at home may be suffering from the heat as well. Though we cannot water every tree in the forest, you can water the urban trees around your neighborhood. Add water to wet the top 12 inches of soil every 2 to 4 weeks. Apply water to all the soil under the canopy if possible. This may take several hours or more depending on what type of application devices are available to you. If you have limited time to devote to watering, it is better to completely wet a small area than to only wet the surface few inches over a large area. You should limit pedestrian, mower, and vehicle traffic under your trees. With a little care, your tree will produce lush spring foliage and brilliant fall colors.

If you have any questions concerning the drought and the effects on the trees at Devils Den, feel free to contact the visitor center at 479-761-3325.

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