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Tree suddenly dies

Mature and established trees die for a variety of reasons but sudden browning of foliage is commonly associated with lack of water supply to the canopy. Water supply can be cut off to the canopy due to obvious problems including drought or root damage.

Sometimes trees receiving root damage can appear healthy with green foliage for many years. A drought 1 or 10 years following root injury can kill the tree suddenly. Trees can decline from construction impacts even 20 years after the construction is completed! This is common around new homes and near buildings constructed several years ago. Pines and other trees can suddenly die in the year or two following a hurricane.

Less recognizable causes of water shortage in the canopy can include flooding (which kills roots), lightning, vascular stem diseases (which block water-conducting vascular passages), root diseases, changing grade nearby, adding soil over roots, and soil compaction (See: more on compaction). In exceptional cases, over-fertilization and topping can kill trees suddenly.

Return of normal rainy weather in summer following an extended drought period of a year or more is often associated with tree death. This apparent parody can be explained in the following manner. Roots die back and reserves (stored energy in the form of starch and fatty acids) are used up during the drought. As a result, some foliage may drop during this period of drought but the tree remains alive. Return of normal soil moisture as rains return stimulates soil pathogenic fungi. The fungi are able to gain a foothold and overpower the tree because it is in a weakened state.

Young establishing trees can die from planting too deep and from piling mulch against the trunk. Click planting in the title box above for more on planting trees appropriately.

See: more information on tree decline.