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Set Drought-Stressed Trees & Shrubs Up for Success

The stress of the ongoing drought in Wisconsin is leaving trees and shrubs more vulnerable to insect and disease issues. Board certified master arborist and Hoppe Tree Service co-owner Freddy Hoppe talks about what homeowners can do this fall and winter to help trees and shrubs recover.

Q: Why is drought such a problem for trees in Wisconsin?

Freddy: Our trees are used to about 30 to 35 inches of rain each year, and they don’t have the mechanisms to adapt quickly when there’s a significant reduction in moisture, especially over long periods of time. We’re seeing a lot of trees with lighter green or yellow leaves and wilting leaves right now, and some are already starting to drop their leaves in response to the drought. Lack of water can lead to root damage, and secondary problems that happen because they’re in a weakened condition. These problems can include damage by wood-boring insects and increased sensitivity to pesticides and de-icing salts. The impacts of drought stress last well beyond the drought itself. In some cases, drought can kill trees.

Q: What can homeowners do this fall to protect their trees and shrubs and help them recover?

Freddy: There are quite a few things you can do to set your plants up for success in the current conditions. Fall fertilization is one strategy. Fertilization provides micro and macro nutrients that can enhance overall tree health. We use a soil injection method that gets the fertilizer right to the roots. Fall is also a good time to apply soil insecticides to protect trees from pests in the following growing season. There are also certain trees such as oaks and elms that are best to prune when they are dormant rather than pruning them in the growing season.

Q: Can watering your trees help?

Freddy: Absolutely - watering regularly can help your trees and shrubs survive drought. For many trees, the majority of roots grow in the top six inches to two feet of the soil. We recommend using a garden hose placed near the base of the tree and a slow trickle, which will give trees a deeper watering. Move the hose to different spots around the base of the tree when the soil becomes moist. Larger trees may take about 45 minutes to an hour of slow watering, and for smaller trees, maybe 20 to 30 minutes. When the soil feels dry again in a few days, it’s time to water again.

If you’re concerned about the health of your trees and shrubs, request a visit to your yard by one of our certified arborists online or by calling 414.257.2111. Our team can evaluate your plants and recommend specific steps to enhance the health of trees and shrubs that are struggling.

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