Helping Trees Recover from Drought

Many geographies had an extremely dry summer. How does drought impact trees? The lack of water adversely affects nearly all plant processes.  Plants are unable to to produce food, which results in weakness and limits growth. Drought stress also increases the chance of harmful insect and disease infestation. Long-term drought can eventually lead to branch dieback and tree decline.

drought symptoms rhododendron
A rhododendron shows symptoms of drought stress.

Steps to Help Trees Recover from Drought

  • Irrigation: Thoroughly water trees and shrubs during the summer and into autumn. Pause watering in early autumn but resume after leaves fall. Also be sure to water conifers.
  • Mulching: Mulch trees and shrubs with wood or bark chips to conserves soil moisture, suppress weeds, insulate soil to reduce winter injury, and improves soil conditions. You can apply organic mulch any time of year. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce drought injury.
  • Soils and Nutrient Management: Fertilize plants weakened by moisture stress in autumn or the next spring, following the drought. Avoid fertilization during droughts. When water is limited, fertilization is not effective.  Soil testing can help determine existing nutrient levels before adding amendments. If potassium is deficient, adding it is especially important to aid plants in overcoming drought damage. Undertake soil sampling and apply slow-release amendments when the soil is not frozen or dried too hard.
  • Insect and Disease Management: Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to insect borers, mites, and foliage diseases. It is important to detect and treat insect problems before significant injury to a plant occurs. Also advisable is to assess trees for diseases and pests that weaken them by damaging leaves, branches, stems, or roots. These injuries impede absorption and translocation of water and nutrients, worsening the effects of drought. Timing is important when managing for pests and diseases.
  • Pruning: Pruning reduces the demands for water and nutrients. Take care when pruning. Excessive pruning weakens and will do more harm than good.



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