We’ve seen many trees, particularly oaks, which appeared to suddenly die this year. So far, what we are finding involves mostly older trees that were already stressed/injured. These trees experienced additional injury due to our excessive rains, flooding and freezing weather. Remember our cold damaged palms, sagos, bottlebrush plants, and etcetera?
It’s not uncommon to see a tree suddenly turn brown during our hot summer temperatures. But what appears to be a sudden death actually involves much more time to occur. Some tree research may help explain part of this problem.
Tree research conducted a number years ago showed that at least fifty percent of a tree’s root system would be nonfunctioning or dead before the tree exhibited aboveground evidence that it had a problem. By the time a person notices the problem it’s too late for corrective or preventive action.
When you see a tree that appears to suddenly die, you’re usually dealing with a tree that has had problems for some time (months or even years) prior to the tree’s death.
When all the leaves on a tree suddenly turn brown but are still firmly attached, it indicates a tree that has had problems for some time. Usually a combination of factors over a long period of time caused extensive injury. The tree has been functioning with a compromised, weakened vascular and/or root system. The flooding, freezing temperatures followed by extended hot weather, collectively, ends up being the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” for these already stressed/weakened trees.
Some common causes for lethal injury in trees include construction damage, floods, drought, storms and herbicide injury, including weed and feed products. It can be a combination of several factors that ultimately does the tree in. Vascular diseases and insects may be involved but they are usually secondary, not the sole cause.
These types of problems with trees are prevented, not cured.
The initial damage could have been caused years prior to the tree’s leaves suddenly turning brown. Based on my experience, trees in this category usually do not recover. I think many homeowners want to be told that there is a product that they can purchase and apply to the dying/dead tree that will reverse or correct the damage. But unfortunately, trees that suddenly turn brown are similar to a fried egg. The damage is done. It is irreversible. Once the egg is fried, it can’t be “unfried.”
Even so, many people are reluctant to accept the loss of a once nice tree.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, June 28, 2013