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Friday, December 21, 2018

Reasons for Palo Verde Limb Dieback

Q. The palo verde tree in our daughter’s yard looks like it has damage. The top has some dead branches in it. We have had to remove some limbs because of this problem. Can it be saved?

A. There are several different kinds of Palo Verde used primarily in desert landscaping. All have tender new growth that can be severely damaged when exposed to intense sunlight. It is important these trees are pruned throughout their lives so that the tree’s canopy shades the trunk and limbs.
If desert adapted trees have limbs removed that expose the trunk or large limbs to direct sunlight and sunburn, borers can be a problem in these trees such as Palo Verde and acacia

            Pruning them in a fashion that exposes limbs and the trunk to intense sunlight causes damage that causes limb death that becomes visible a few years later. It’s a progression that usually starts with bad pruning practices. This progression begins when too much is removed from these trees. When too much is removed, the limbs and trunk are exposed to high intensity desert sunlight.
Exposing the trunk and lower limbs to direct sunlight and sunburn can create future problems to trees like the Palo Verde.

            Intense, direct sunlight on young limbs first causes a discoloration due to intense sunlight. As this direct sunlight repeats day after day, exposed areas of limbs and trunk facing the sun die. Water can’t through dead areas of the trunk and limbs.
            Unless this sunburn causes severe damage, the top of the tree probably looks fine. The tree can still move water around the damaged area from roots to tree branches. The damage could be as much is 50% of the limb and trunk area and the tree looks fine.
This is not Palo Verde but when the trunk and limbs are exposed to intense sunlight for a long period of time, year after year, the intense sunlight can damage or even kill the living part of the tree under the sunburned area. The beginning of this damage can be very attractive to some wood boring insects which can make the damage worse.

            This damage from sunburn attracts insects such as borers that feed on living parts of the tree close to the damaged area. This feeding by borers causes even more damage that reduces water movement to the limbs. Perhaps the first year or two, trunk and limb damage goes unnoticed because the canopy looks fine.
The first sign of sunburn is a discoloration or off-color to the trunk, limbs or even fruit on fruit trees.

            But at some point, damage becomes severe enough that water movement from roots to the canopy is reduced.  Limbs start dying back because the tree can’t get enough water past the damage. This usually happens during the heat of the summer when demand for water is highest.
            The homeowner now notices the limb death in the canopy. The homeowner removes dead limbs. This exposes the tree to more intense sunlight and further damage. Tree damage is so severe and unsightly the homeowner considers removing it. This is the tree “death spiral”.
            What to do? Damage to the tree may be already extensive. Decide whether you can live with this damage or not. If not, have the tree removed. If you decide to keep the tree, then encourage it to heal as quickly as possible. Contribute to this healing by giving it enough water on a regular basis and apply fertilizer in early spring.

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