Even the mighty oaks are dying from thirst

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Features Editor

Fall colors are creeping into woodlands all across the county but it’s still July and there’s not even a hint of autumn in the air.

The early fall forest look is actually a sign of the devastating summer drought that is playing havoc on crops and livestock and the woodlands. The Southern pine beetle is killing pines at a rate that is causing

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

a crisis for the forests of Alabama. Now, the drought is taking its toll on the hardwoods, too.

Even the mighty oaks are showing the effects of thirst, said Wayne Craft, county manager Forestry Commission/Pike County, and some are dying from drought related conditions.

"It’s just too dry for some trees to survive," he said. "However, many of those that are dying are the weaker trees that have already been damaged by diseased. They are deformed and under stress and the drought is just too much for them. The stronger trees are surviving but some of the hardwoods are losing their leaves. That doesn’t mean they are dead or dying. It just means they are shutting down to do all they can to combat the drought conditions.

"When it’s dry like this, trees become susceptible to disease and that can be as damaging as the drought. A disease can go from tree to tree, so you want to keep your trees watered as much as possible."

Craft said dogwoods are being hit hard by the drought and he recommends getting plenty of water to them to help them survive.

"You can’t just hope your trees will survive; you’ve got to help them and the best way is with water," he said. "I don’t recommend fertilizer. It could do more harm than good. Water is what they need."

The pecan tree branch tips that are littering lawns and causing concern about the future of the trees are not reason to be unduly concerned, Craft said.

"What is falling is a piece of branch that has broken off because of a borer that gets on the tip end," he said. "It’s not unusual at this time of the year and it’s not real serious."

However, Craft said he can’t be as optimistic about the fall pecan crop.

"I can’t say for sure but, as dry as it is, there’s just not enough moisture to fill out the nuts and I would expect that the pecan crop will be slack this year."

There is also concern among some homeowners about their pines.

"When pine needles turn brown, the tree is dead and water won’t help it," he said. "If a tree is dead, it’s dead and it’s too late for anything."

Pines are being affected by the drought and by the beetles – southern pine, black turpentine and ips. Pines use moisture in the soil to generate turpentine and sap to fight off beetles. When they are under stress from the drought, they don’t generate this protection. Southern pine beetles usually attack where there is a heavy concentration of trees.

Craft said the Alabama Forestry Commission conducted an aerial detection flight over the county two weeks ago looking for "dead spots" in the pine forests which indicate beetle infestations.

"We found 83 spots and it looks like we are going to have to have well over a hundred this year," Craft said.

"In a normal year, we might have as many as 50 spots and we all know this is not a normal year and it could get worse if we don’t get rain."

He said homeowners, as well as landowners, should monitor their trees for any signs of beetles.

"We are finding Southern pine beetles in scattered pines, too, so homeowners do need to keep a close watch on their pines," Craft said. "They need to especially watch for the black turpentine beetle. A spray works against the black turpentine beetle and it can be controlled without cutting down the tree. We’ll be happy to assist in any way we can."

Contact the Forestry Commission at 566-3436 with any concerns or questions.