Spring – Time To Check Tree Health

Spring in the Garden is a time of new growth in the landscape. As soil temperatures rise and post-wet season soil moisture levels are high, garden plants, including trees, emerge from their hibernation and get growing again.

But how to tell if your tree is growing properly or whether it’s healthy or not?

This latest long and colder than usual Winter has stopped or slowed the growth of most plants and these conditions don’t offer many clues about the health of woody plants. Trees often respond to Summer’s high temperatures and Autumn’s extended drought to prematurely drop leaves and limbs, which are not good indicators of a tree’s underlying health status. So, Spring, whenever it arrives at your place, provides probably the best opportunity to check tree growth and health.

You can do this yourself by looking at your trees’ canopy or crown
Is the leafy canopy unevenly spread or are some branches bare without foliage? Is coverage thin at the top of the tree and thicker around the lower margins? Can you see twigs sticking out the top? Look a bit further. Are the leaves clustered and in big bunches? Can you see through clusters or are they dense?

If the answer is no, you probably have a perfectly healthy tree as the most obvious signs indicate normal functional growth meeting the tree’s demands.

Your previous efforts to water, fertilize and care for the tree are about to be rewarded with another year of beauty, shade, and property amenity.

If the answer is yes to canopy spread and leaf density, your tree is dehydrating and has a major problem. Sometimes it’s a sign that the tree needs water but in Spring it usually means that there is some sort of internal decay, pest, damage, or root loss interfering with moisture flows between the roots and the canopy.

If the extent of canopy decline or dieback is severe, the tree is likely in terminal decline and unfortunately will probably die. The growth of fungal fruit on the trunk or at its base provides an additional indication that the tree is severely decayed internally and remedy is unlikely.

The tree probably won’t fall over immediately but you should check to see what might be targeted if it were to eventually collapse and act accordingly.

If the degree of foliar decline is moderate, then prompt intervention during the active growing season could help restore its health and amenity.

  • Pests should be identified now or later as they get more active and the timing of appropriate treatment determined.
  • Dead branches can be cut out to prevent decay from spreading.
  • Check soil pH for nutrient availability and fertilizer treatment
  • Access to light and water can be improved or controlled
  • A Seaweed bioregulator to reactivate root growth and moisture supply.
  • Carbohydrates can be applied to reduce stress to other tree functions.

Of course, you can also call an arborist to get the right advice to help you address all these potential issues. If the tree is valuable to you, don’t accept a suggestion that it should be cut down before considering whether any other options to restore it back to health and value can occur.

Alan Cameron of Tree Assessment Services is a qualified and experienced consulting arborist who provides services to tree owners and developers across metropolitan Adelaide and rural South Australia.