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Leaf loss means tree stress
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The past 12 months have been tough on trees and it does not look like there is much of an end in sight. Many calls have been coming into the office about trees and their condition.
 The Area Forester Jim Strine and I have visited many locations to visit with landowners about the status of their trees and generally supply the same answer to all. They need water and they are stressed.
This summer’s yellowing and falling trees leaves are signs of stress, as are the browning leaves that stay in place. Trees are reflecting the unusually warm, droughty weather that started last summer.
“Adequate water remains vital. With that, many trees can survive, if they also have enough stored energy reserves to make it through to next spring. Their twigs and buds will tell the story,” said Ward Upham, K-State Research and Extension horticulturist.
Typically, leaf loss isn’t serious if it simply results in general thinning, Upham said.  “Trees often set more leaves in spring than they can support during summer’s weather. So, they reduce leaf numbers,” he explained. “This summer’s thinning could look a little worrisome, though, unless you remember trees probably lost some roots over the past year.”
During extreme summers, certain trees (e.g., the hackberry) will drop all leaves and enter summer dormancy. “Dormant trees should still have supple twigs and healthy buds,” Upham said. “If so, the effect on tree health is likely to be minor. The tree should leaf out normally next spring.
“However, if any section of the tree has brittle twigs and dead buds, that part, at least, is dead.”
When trees finally can’t keep up with their own moisture demands, they quickly die – seemingly overnight. Their leaves turn brown, but may remain attached to the tree.
“Again, though, twigs and buds are the most important clue to a tree’s health,” Upham said. “So long as buds are alive and twigs are supple, a tree has life. You should wait to see how it responds next spring.”
Look for the K-State Research and Extension display at the fair and pick up a fact sheet about best watering practices for trees and shrubs.
Jenni Carr is the K-State extension agent, ag and natural resources - Barton County. She can be reached at