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Over 250-year-old oak tree falls, irrigation tips for tree owners during drought

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Posted: Thursday, December 8, 2011 10:07 am

Precinct 3 Constable Ann Weaks of Navasota said a loud, screeching sound woke her up last Saturday, at approximately 3 a.m., during a storm, but she never would have guessed it was coming from her own back yard. A few hours later, sunlight revealed high winds helped uproot her more than 250-year-old oak tree, which took her concrete back steps with it and sent the steps' rails into a large portion of her home's back wall.

Board-Certified Master Arborist Dr. W. Todd Watson, PhD, BCMA ISA of Millican said though he doesn't believe the drought caused the oak tree to fall, he has tips for residents that could prevent tree decay.

"I see no evidence that the drought caused the tree to fall over. Droughts can kill trees, but they do not typically cause them to fall over," said Dr. Watson.

Since Dr. Watson was unavailable for a visit prior to press day, he made an analysis via emailed Examiner photos. Through observation of photos, Dr. Watson said the oak tree appeared to be physiologically healthy since it had a full canopy of leaves, but was not structurally healthy "since it failed at the root plate at the base of the trunk."

"This type of failure is common for post oaks, particularly if there are soil-related problems. Since there is a flowerbed around this tree, it may have had root damage from repeated replanting over the years. It may have also been overwatered for years because of the landscape plants around the base," Dr. Watson said.

He added that since post oaks are very susceptible to root suffocation and do not generate new roots to recover from the damage, things like fill soil, soil compaction and wet soils reduce the air in the soil and can cause roots to suffocate and die - and lose their grip on the soil.

Both Dr. Watson and Navasota Garden Club Member Marty Luedtke (who was able to inspect the tree in person) said the tree appeared to have root decay.

"You can have trees that appear to be healthy because they have lots of green leaves, but they can have underlying structural problems that make them dangerous. This problem increases as trees get older," said Dr. Watson.

The only way to prevent decay in trees is through proper tree care. And, with the record-breaking heat occurring for an extended period of time over the last year, Texas residents have had a challenge on their hands.

"The drought has killed numerous trees throughout the Brazos Valley and Texas," Dr. Watson said. "This has been the worst 12-month drought since meteorologists started keeping records."

Dr. Watson said local water oaks, red oaks, and elms are a few of the trees that seem to be hardest hit by the drought. He added that post oaks and live oaks have fared well because they are "very drought tolerant."

Dr. Watson added that drought-induced wildfires have also caused the death of millions of trees in Texas.

"Many drought-stressed trees have been killed by wood-boring insects whose job in nature is to eliminate stressed trees," said Dr. Watson.

Though the drought has decreased the lifespan of Texas trees, Dr. Watson said those who are overcompensating for the heat with water are also adding damage to injury.

"I have seen several trees die in drought because people are overcompensating and overwatering their trees," said Dr. Watson.

Texas AgriLife Extension Service County Extension Agent Shane Jennings, MS also recommends that trees be watered around the canopy where the trees' roots truly lie - not at the trunk base.

"The farthest part of the limb is where the root system is - not the trunk where most people are probably watering," said Jennings.

Tree watering tips from the The Texas Chapter International Society of Arboriculture include the following: Avoid watering during the hottest part of the day, between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; mature trees need to be watered about once a week, while younger, newly-planted trees need to be watered about 3 times a week; use a screwdriver to determine if it's time to water by attempting to push it into the ground. If the screwdriver won't easily go at least 6 to 8 inches into the ground, it's time to water; water large, valuable yard trees with a garden hose or soaker hose; and a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled into the bottom can be used to water smaller trees.

A complete list of ways to properly irrigate trees in a drought may be found at The Texas Chapter International Society of Arboriculture's Website at

Homeowners are also advised to have their trees inspected periodically by an

ISA Certified Arborist, which may be found at



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