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Losing leaves in August? Lack of rain is hurting the trees

Colorful leaves already were on the ground this week at the Carnegie Center and Gratz Park. Arborist Dave Leonard said the recent dry stretch creates additional stress on weakened trees, which respond by dropping their leaves early.
Colorful leaves already were on the ground this week at the Carnegie Center and Gratz Park. Arborist Dave Leonard said the recent dry stretch creates additional stress on weakened trees, which respond by dropping their leaves early.

Have you noticed that a few trees are turning fall colors and losing their leaves in August?

Blame it on a lack of rain, Lexington consulting arborist Dave Leonard said.

In many cases, several years of dry spells are taking their toll on trees that were planted in the wrong place to begin with.

"I get lots of calls about river birches," Leonard said. "I go out to look and say, 'Where's the river?'"

A lot of trees that are being forced to grow in small openings in parking lots also are suffering. In urban areas, soil can become compacted around a tree, causing water to run off into the street instead of being absorbed into the root zone.

A tree weakened by a lack of water is just that much more attractive to insects and disease.

September and October usually are the driest months in Central Kentucky. This year, however, August has been unusually dry. In an average August, we can expect about four inches of rain. By the middle of this week, we had barely broken the half-inch mark.

Leonard's suggested remedy: If your tree isn't doing well and we've gone a week without an inch of rain, you need to water it.

That could mean putting a hose under the drip line (under the farthest-spreading leaves), setting it on trickle, and moving it occasionally. It could mean turning on a sprinkler and setting out a pie pan to let you know when you reach an inch.

What about that parking-lot tree, where the root tips are under concrete? He suggests at least putting a hose near the trunk and letting it run slowly.

And think about location before you plant another tree.

"We're planting trees where maybe we ought not to be able to plant trees," Leonard said. "I love trees, but I love them to be well-sited."

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