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Arbor Day: Does a Late Spring Damage Our Trees & Plants?

Today marks the 424th celebration of Arbor Day. Arbor Day usually comes at a time more closely associated with the halfway point of spring, but this year it feels more like the beginning of the season. However, that is where we find it this year. In anticipation of Arbor Day, let’s recap the unique weather of 2018 and how it has affected the look and health of our trees.

The most noticeable observation about this Arbor Day is the lack of May flowers, despite the occasional April showers. Typically, by late April most of our trees have leafed out and the landscapes are beginning to bloom. This year the late stay of winter has delayed much of the spring foliage and flowers. The past week of warmer nights has pushed some trees out of their winter dormancy, but don’t be surprised if trees planted in celebration of Arbor Day don’t look as full as they have in years past. Other problems associated with the strange weather are unfortunately not as harmless as the delayed foliage and flowers.

Winter damage is another result of the unusual season we are experiencing. The past winter was cold and dry. While plants go dormant over winter they still need water, especially evergreens. Drought damage over winter can cause burn on the foliage and root loss. Foliage damage is usually insignificant to the long-term health of the plant, but root damage can have lasting or deadly implications for our trees and shrubs. While root damage can become apparent over winter and into early spring, the extent of the damage may not be visible until the plant begins to leaf out. Root damage can be explained using the old analogy of a car motor. Car motors before the invention of computers used more fuel get started than to run.

Trees can relate as they use most of their stored energy from winter to push new growth for the year. Significant drought damage to the root system can drain the tree’s “gas tank” and the tree can run out of energy in the process of waking up from winter. Often this causes the tree to die during or shortly after they are to leaf out. Providing a dry landscape with plenty of water can help reduce this damage.

The final issue resulting from the delayed spring is freeze damage. While most of our plants are behind their yearly routine, many plants leafed out or set early-season blooms before the final freeze of the year. The nighttime freezing temperatures killed blooms, causing the vibrant pink and white blooms to be replaced by dried brown blooms overnight. Likewise, young tender foliage may be seen with dark brown to black colored leaf edges or leaf contortion. In severe cases, wilting and leaf drop occurred. Luckily the freeze damage is minimal stress to the tree’s health and the tree should recover just fine. However, we miss out on the early visual relief from winter and are left with magnolias that look more like flower graveyards than spring centerpieces.

This Arbor Day is a stark contrast to any of recent years. As we take time to celebrate the beauty that trees bring to our landscapes—and the work of the men and women to keep them healthy—it is important to keep in mind that our landscapes are just as stressed and begrudging of the late winter as we are. Remember that while many of us are late to finishing our personal chores and spring clean-up, Mother Nature is behind as well.

Need help caring for your trees and shrubs? The experienced professionals at Ryan Lawn and Tree Care Services can help you install and maintain beautiful, healthy trees and shrubs to provide a personalized aesthetic touch all year long. Give us a call or get a free estimate today.


By Dane Kietzman | Ryan Lawn & Tree, Plant Health Pro

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