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Do Trees Have Stress?

Many people don't realize that like people, trees suffer from stress, too. So how do you know if your tree is stressed? Trees actually speak quite loudly when they are stressed; you just need to learn how to listen!


This is an easy one. If your tree is wilting, it probably needs water or you might be watering it too much! Unfortunately, under and over-watering exhibits the same symptoms. However, a little detective work will have the problem solved in no time.

If you have a drip irrigation system, make sure the emitters on the tree are working. Clean or replace if they are not. If you live in a climate where rainfall is the only source of water, remember many parts of the Country are in a drought. Giving your tree a good periodic soaking down to at least 5 feet around the entire tree is a good idea.

Leaf Discolorations

If your tree exhibits symptoms such as leaf spots, stippling on leaves or other unusual discolorations, inspect your tree carefully. These are signs of insects, disease or nutrient problems. Look on the undersides of leaves for insects, as this is where they like to hide. Before you haul out the chemicals, make sure:

  • You have the right species for your climate and soils. Nutritional deficiencies will appear if your soil is not right for the tree species, or if the climate is not suitable.
  • You do not over or under-water. When a tree is stressed from too much or too little water, it sends out signals to insects, which take advantage of its weakened condition. Insects weaken the tree even more, and diseases can take hold.

Root Disturbance

Trees will exhibit signs of stress such as wilting, dropping bark or leaves when roots are disturbed. Digging underneath the canopy as little as 6 inches down can damage tiny feeder roots. Always avoid disturbing the root zones of established trees.


Fertilizing is over-rated. If a tree looks fine and is growing moderately, do not feed it! If the tree exhibits symptoms mentioned above, do not assume the tree needs fertilizer. Feeding a sick tree will just make it sicker. Always make sure there isn't something else going on before fertilizing.

Sometimes we love our plants to death. Too much fertilizer may make your tree grow faster, but fast growth upsets a tree's delicate balance. A well-watered and well-fertilized tree may make you feel better; but the fact is moderate growth is better for the tree. The faster a tree grows, the less energy it has for defense against insects and disease.

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