Effects of Flooding and Standing Water on Trees

After major storm events, initial clean-up focuses on broken branches, blown over trees, and anything in the landscape displaced by the wind and water.  However, did you know some of the damage make take much longer to show up.  This is especially true in areas where heavy flooding was experienced over a prolonged amount of time.  Such as along Black Creek in Clay County during Hurricane Irma in 2018.

One essential part of a healthy plant is oxygen exchange within the roots and saturated soils and flooding stops this from happening.  In other words, too much water “drowns” the tree roots and can stress the whole tree moving forward.  Standing, non flowing water can lead to anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions.  This can even make the soil smell pungent or rotting.  The longer it is underwater, the worse the damage will be.

If a tree is underwater for an extended time during a flooding or storm event, stay calm and don’t panic.  Many trees can and will survive floods.  If a large amount of sediment is deposited from a flood, try to remove it from the surface.  Other than that, it is a waiting game.  Do not rush out to fertilize the tree, extra nutrients will not speed its recovery.

The effects you may see following a tree being under flood conditions are yellowed leaves, defoliation, sprouts from the base of the tree, and die-back.  If the flooding damage is light and the flooding is infrequent, the tree may recover.  However, whenever a tree is stressed opportunistic pests can attack.  These include fungi, insects, and disease that see a weak food source and pounce.  This process of tree decline can take months or years to fully manifest or recover so be patient.

If a tree begins to look like a potential hazard, contact a trained arborist to assess it for risks.  Arborists can be found in your area by searching at http://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/.

To prevent flooding damage in the landscape, observe where standing water is an issue and landscape accordingly.  Only landscape with flood tolerant species such as red maple, sweetgum, or baldcypress in these areas.  (For more ideas on plant species, check out this awesome fact sheet from UF/IFAS Extension Baker County: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/baker/docs/pdf/horticulture/PlantsforWetAreas_FFL.pdf)

If you have any questions, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for more information.