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Published on: Apr. 17, 2012

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temporarily fix the symptom but not provide a solution. Fertilizers added during drought or after construction damage are common, but the fix is only temporary and may only create other problems. Once the problem is identified, a plan should be implemented to address both the symptoms and the primary problem.

What You Can Do

Watch for small changes in the appearance and growth of your trees, these may be early warnings. Take pictures so you have something to compare to later.

Lots of trees can recover from minor stress if provided a little extra water. Infrequent, slow and deep watering simulates natural rainfall, giving the tree a nice big drink. Mulch applied 2–4" deep, over the largest area possible, is similar to the natural leaf litter you see in the woods. This keeps soil cool, adds nutrients and keeps the mower from hitting the trunk.

If considering a remodeling project, don’t cut roots because the guy with a trencher or backhoe says it is OK. A small delay until fall or winter can reduce problems. Sometimes patience, and considering the basics, such as water and mulch, are your best choices.

What a Professional Can Do

A professional arborist is the best choice when you are worried about the health of your tree. Arborists can assess your trees with the knowledge of the whole region and provide the best information and recommendations. They may use compressed air excavation to loosen compacted soil or to find roots before a construction project. They may also apply soil, nutrients, growth regulators or other chemicals for specific problems. Arborists can make protection plans to work within your construction project needs. Those site and tree-specific options make hiring a certified arborist a wise choice. Visit the International Society of Arboriculture’s website at and look for “verify an arborist” to find a certified arborist in your area.

It Works!

Keeping an eye on your trees will maximize their health, appearance and services provided to you. A healthy tree is safer, makes more shade, grows faster and can tolerate heat waves, high wind, droughts and other urban stress.

Trees at your home and in the community provide real economic value by shading your house, protecting or adding value to property, providing pedestrians safe areas from traffic and cleaning the water before it reaches our streams and lakes all over Missouri. Visit to find out what trees do for you.

Many urban tree stressors can be avoided by placing the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. Be nice to your trees and they will be nice to you. Contact your local MDC urban forester or visit for more information.

Some Factors That Contribute to Urban Tree Stress

  • Drought
  • Reflected heat
  • Soil compaction
  • Freezing / warming fluctuations
  • Defoliation
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Chemical injury
  • Over-watering
  • Mechanical damage
  • Transplant shock
  • Improper planting depth
  • Lack of root space
  • Competing vegetation
  • Improper pruning

Typical Symptoms of Urban Tree Stress

  • Excess sprouts
  • Leaf scorch
  • Wilted leaves
  • Dead parts
  • Stunted growth
  • Increased fruit production
  • Chlorosis
  • Girdling roots
  • Early fall color change
  • Early leaf drop

What is Bugging Your Tree?

Urban stress can lead to insects. Sometimes the insects are easy to see and sometimes all you see is the damage they cause. For a faster and more accurate diagnosis, collect the following information to share with your arborist.

  • Do you see insects? What do they look like? What color are they? How big? Are they flying or walking? Do you see them in a web?
  • Are leaves chewed or do they look like something poked a hole and sucked the juice out? Does it look like something tunneled inside the leaf?
  • Is the leaf dried out? Are the edges dry or the whole leaf?
  • Is the leaf turning yellow from the veins outward or from the edges in?
  • Are there weird bumps or warty-looking things on a twig or leaf?
  • Are the leaves or area under the tree sticky?
  • Take a picture of the problem from close up and another showing the tree and area surrounding it.

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