Sometimes a shade tree in the landscape just begins to lose its vigor and becomes progressively sicker. The process may take place over several years and may or may not lead to the eventual death of the tree. No disease or insect can be determined to be the problem so we just call it "Shade Tree Decline".

The major symptoms are that the branches begin to lose their leaves from the tips. This may be scattered around the canopy of the tree or isolated to one area at a time. Ultimately, all the leaves disappear or fail to appear in the spring leading to the death of that branch. Other signs of stress would be premature fall color. Some branches may turn yellow or red by mid-summer. As the situation progresses, borer holes may appear on the trunk and major branches.


There is no single cause for shade tree decline. However, the factors that lead to this problem are all either cultural or environmental. Cultural possibilities would include improper planting (usually too deep), excessive fertilization, excessive watering, circling root at the base of the trunk, etc.

Environmental causes would include a change in the soil elevation around the root zone, soil compaction, root damage during construction, extreme drought, storm damage, etc.


Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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