Last year we experienced very low rainfall for almost the entire growing season; this year is only a little better. According to the various data sources I’ve looked at, our total rainfall in northern New Jersey is somewhere around 15 to 25 percent below normal, and the lowest rainfall totals occurred during the key spring months. And you can see the effects all around you. Notice all the evergreen trees with brown patches or dead limbs, the dead pine trees, the mature hardwood trees with dead limbs and dead crowns. Two, or even three years of drought are unlikely to affect a mature, healthy tree that’s growing in an appropriate site, but trees that are stressed are showing severe effects of drought. This includes newly planted trees that haven’t been watered properly, trees planted on the wrong site (for example, shade lovers placed in full sun, wetland species planted in dry soil), and trees approaching the end of their natural lifespan.
The Norway maples that were planted as street trees throughout much of this area around 50 or 60 years ago are particularly hard hit: many are diseased, and most are at the end of their lifespan. The two large Norway maples that we lost and replaced this spring are examples. Not that I’m sorry to lose these ugly and invasive trees, but the various towns’ Shade Tree Commissions and Departments of Public Works will have a great deal to do over the next few years. And it will take a while to regrow the street tree canopy we’re losing. Here in Glen Rock, we will be planting only native trees. Is your town doing the same?
You can’t do anything about the drought, but you can do something to protect your treasured plantings. Here are a few suggestions:
— Water new plants correctly at least for the first year; large trees can require supplemental watering even longer.
— If you have a tree with dead branches or, even more serious, a dead crown, consult an arborist and have it properly pruned or removed, especially if it’s endangering people or structures.
— When planting, always choose the correct plant for the site. This will minimize watering needs over the long term and help ensure the health of your garden.