Clemson Extension Horticulture Agents get numerous questions this time of year about trees dying. There can be several factors that stress trees.
In late summer, the most likely problem is related to drought or heat. If trees are under drought stress, this reduces their defense mechanism in resisting insect damage or disease-causing organisms. Since most trees are so large, it may take several years for the tree to die due to insect, disease, or drought injury. Once this starts, it’s almost impossible to reverse the damage.
Another potential factor is construction. It’s important to remember to protect the root systems and trunks of trees when any grading or clearing is done. Never allow machinery to come close to the tree as the roots extend 2 to 3 times the width of the tree’s canopy. If a tree’s roots are cut due to grading, it may take the tree 2 to 5 years to finally die. Always use silt fencing or some other type of protection around desirable trees to protect them during the clearing process. Never park vehicles under the trees as this will compact the soil and damage the root system.
Lastly, improper planting and mulching practices can also lead to tree decline and death. For more information on caring for your trees, please see HGIC 1001, Planting Trees Correctly; HGIC 1604, Mulch; HGIC 1037, Tree Maintenance; HGIC 1002, Protecting Trees During Construction; and the South Carolina Forestry Commission: Forest Health Manual.
If you suspect your tree’s health may be in peril, contact a local ISA Certified arborist who specializes in consulting and diagnostics.