2005-07-27 / News

Home & Garden Tips

Wet roots lead to yellow leaves
Burke County Extension Agent
By Roosevelt McWilliams

Home & Garden Tips


Wet roots lead to yellow leaves

By Roosevelt McWilliams

Burke County Extension Agent

If the recent rainstorms have added a small pond to your landscape, now is the time to protect your landscape plants. Landscape plants need water to survive. Too much water can be damaging to plants.

We’ve had quite a bit of rain this spring and over the past few weeks. Plants, especially those in heavier clay soils, may be suffering from the effects of standing water. Standing water can cause long-term harm to landscape plants. Too much water can cause plant roots to shut down and leaves to turn yellow.

When there is too much water, the leaves lack oxygen, and the roots can’t breathe. When soils are saturated, especially in hard Georgia clay soils, the oxygen is prevented from reaching the root system. Certainly some trees are more tolerant of wet conditions, but the longer the lack of aeration, the greater the chance of root death.

Lack of oxygen will result in root die-back with above ground symptoms appearing as leaf yellowing, droopy foliage, leaf drop, and eventually branch dieback. Water logged root systems are also more susceptible to attack by root-rot organisms. In addition to the obvious damage to plants, there are more long-term effects to the soil. Soil microorganisms that require oxygen may be killed and those that survive without oxygen take over, which in turn affects availability of nutrients for plant use.

The soil structure itself may be physically harmed due to compaction of soil particles. There isn’t much you can do other than wait for drier weather to prevail and allow water to drain. As more favorable conditions return, watch for signs of dieback, but don’t be too hasty to cut limbs. Branches that have lost leaves aren’t necessarily dead; even though leaves may drop, there may be buds that will be able to re-leaf next summer. Live stems and buds will have some green tissue visible.

To help the landscape plants, pull the mulch away from their base. Once the soil dries out and is free of standing water, replace the mulch.

I would suggest fertilizing the affected plants to replace the nitrogen that has leached out of the soil.

Water may not be the only problem you need to address in your landscape. Although pruning is typically a winter chore, inspect your plants and prune away any twisted or broken branches.

You should make a pruning cut back to the branch collar where the branch joins the stem. The branches aren’t going to come back. If you leave them hanging, it will create a vector for diseases.

You should also check the trees around your home for lightning damage. A spiral streak down a tree trunk is a sure sign of a strike.

With trees, you are in a wait and see situation. Large oak and other hardwood trees can sometimes recover, but many pines won’t.


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