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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Line Trimmers Can Cause Tree Dieback

Q. My purple plum has branches that are dying on one side of the tree. The leaves are all brown and crunchy while the other side seems healthy. Please help.

A. It is important to try and find out what the problem is if possible. From your description 1/3 tree has leaves that are dead or dying. These leaves are brown, dry and withered and possibly dead. Something is causing water not to reach the side of the tree that is withered and appears dead.

This means there is damage to the limb or trunk below that area. Please inspect the larger limbs and trunk below it for wounding or bark that is peeling away from the trunk. If the tree is in a rock landscape, which is really not good for this tree, make sure that water is getting to that side by turning on the irrigation system and making sure water is coming out.

You might try putting a hose at the base of the tree and a soaking the area around the tree slowly over a couple of hours. Do this once a week along with your normal irrigations and see if this makes a difference. But my best guess is that something has damaged the tree below the problem area. You still have time this year to help get it recovering from this damage before leaf drop.

Response from reader:
 Yu are correct. I just inspected the tree, which is not in a rock landscape, and found several wounds at the base of the truck near the ground. There are places on the truck where the bark is peeling away. Additionally, the branch that did not produce many leaves has a ½ inch split in it; the wood looks dry. The only reasonable explanations for this problem that I can come up with are (1) the gardener may have damaged the tree with his mower or lawn edger, or (2) borers may have damaged the tree before I treated it for insect infestation. There is no well around the tree; the grass grows around the base of the truck. I am watering my tree now and praying for its recovery.
My response to reader:
Good detective work! You are right, if the damage goes a considerable way around then this could be the root (pardon the pun) of your problem. Let’s determine if it is weed whacker or borer damage, shall we? Pull any loose bark away from the trunk. Look for accumulations of sawdust in channels that run parallel with the bark but just under it. A pen knife might work well to see if this sawdust “frass” located in the exposed tunnels just under the bark indicates a borer problem or not. If this is weed whacker damage (can be very likely and a common problem when grass is allowed to grow right up to the trunk) then there will be no frass or elliptically shaped exit holes about 3/8 inch long. Regardless of the outcome, remove the grass out a distance of two feet from the trunk. Can be a circle if you want but doesn’t have to be. If you want to be creative make it a square or even a trapezoid! But get the grass away from the trunk so the weed whacker doesn’t damage it.

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