SAN ANGELO, Texas — The Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) reported today that Texas is starting to see widespread drought stress in trees across the state.

Trees more susceptible to this stress are generally in isolated pockets where the soil is dry and can not retain much water or in parts of the state where there has been an extended period of drought.

“Several different species are dying and declining rapidly,” said Karl Flocke, Texas A&M Forest Service Woodland Ecologist, “But generally, we are seeing the most drought-induced mortality on oaks, a few elm trees, hackberry trees and even some junipers.”

TFS said that the best way to slow mortality rates in trees is to water them on a regular basis. Consistent watering is crucial for trees because they are not capable of storing water. Unlike a cactus that fill with water for later use, trees are constantly getting water from the soil and releasing it back into the atmosphere through transpiration. Because of this, they need watering regularly to survive. In extreme drought, trees can survive on half the recommended water – one to two gallons per inch of trunk diameter, once a week.

With 99% of Texas under drought conditions according to TFS, it becomes increasingly more difficult to protect native plant life and many counties, cities, and water districts have begun putting water restrictions in place to conserve the precious resource. When under water restrictions and drought conditions the goal shifts to keeping your trees alive until conditions change, rather than forcing them into a growing stage.

Flocke recommends the best way to take care of the trees while conserving water resources is to first Identify signs of heat stress such as wilting leaves, malformed leaves, yellowing of the leaves, and/or browning tips of the leaves and prioritize the trees that you want to maintain in your landscape such as trees that provide shade around the home that could aid in lower temperatures.

TFS has additional tips;

  • Water in the morning or evenings when there will be less loss to evaporation.
  • Reduce overhead watering by using a hose, bubbler, or drip system
  • Avoid chemical fertilizers as these increase the demand for water
  • Re-use shower, bath, and cooking water for watering
  • Let your lawn grow taller. Shade from longer grass helps to reduce the soil temperature and the amount of water lost due to evaporation.
  • Avoid pruning. Pruning of live tissue causes trees to expend energy to seal the wounds. That energy could be better used to overcome drought stress.

Stay informed on drought conditions in your area by visiting https://tfsfrd.tamu.edu/ForestDrought/