The Root of All Evil
Written by: By: Luke Volbrecht, Certified Arborist Wi-1112A
The moment a tree seed touches the ground is pivotal for its development. If the environment is inhospitable (too hot or dry, water logged, low organic matter, or poor oxygen levels), then the first root may not succeed. Should the first root not develop, then it is game over for the seed. Many of our urban soils fit this description.
While each yard is unique with its environmental factors, something that no yard in our area has been able to escape is the weather. The last decade has been one for the records books from intensely hot and dry summers, to arctic winters, and repeated wet spring weather. These inconsistent weather patterns take a toll on trees that otherwise expect and need stable weather trends. The stress of constant change then influences root development. The common business adage of “If you are not growing then you are dying,” proves true for trees too. If the root system is not continuing to grow, then the tree is dying. If decay sets in with a shrinking root system this allows root rotting fungi to take advantage of the newly dead material.
A common root rotting fungus affecting trees is Armillaria root rot. Armillaria root rot is a pathogenic fungus infecting roots and stem tissue. The fungus degrades the cell structure that helps keep a tree standing strong. Honey colored mushrooms during the Fall season are the easiest sign to spot. These mushrooms can be found near the base of trees or growing throughout lawn and garden beds. Other signs of poor root health can include: off colored leaves, leaves that are wilting, and canopy thinning/ dieback. In a forest setting the fungus is critical in turning fallen branches and dead stumps back into soil thereby keeping the ground clear from debris. In the urban landscape it tends to infect weakened and stressed trees.
The greatest defense against such an invader is to keep trees healthy and stress free from the start. This can be in the form of pest/ disease suppression, through nutrient management, watering during dry weather, and keeping trees properly pruned. Mycorrhizae, Compost Tea, and Root bio-stimulant fertilizers are all great options for improving root and tree health. We all have trees of significance that we care for. The wild environmental factors we have seen can combine with naturally occurring fungus and make big problems for trees. It doesn’t have to be that way! Contact one of our Certified Arborists to continue improving the health of your trees.