Trees damaged by extreme temperatures are left susceptible to insects

This winter season was especially hard on the conifers (Pfitzers, Junipers, Pines, Spruce and Fir). If you call that extreme cold snap we had in November, 2014 and combine that with spring-like temperatures in January, 2015- you have a recipe for tree and shrub injury. With Spring upon us, many trees and plants in our region are showing browning and appear to be drying out.

When you have these conditions: hard/prolonged freeze coupled with unusually warm temperatures, this contributes to a disruption of the “dormancy period”, which causes desiccation and cell damage in the trees from freeze and thaw.

As plant cells go through these extreme conditions, it causes damage that won’t be seen until Spring. Similarly, departure from dormancy for all these plants is coming even earlier due to unusually high temperatures. We know this because plants are starting to break buds earlier than we have ever seen.

In addition to this, your pines may be along a roadway that has winter salts applied to keep the ice from forming. This is not good news for your trees. When road salts melt and run off into the ditches and low areas around the roads, these salts leach into the soil. Pines (i.e. Ponderosa Pine) are very susceptible to especially road salts.

This combination of conditions creates another recipe for tree damage to your pines: winter desiccation + early season dormancy break + road salts in the soils equates to damaged trees. When we add all these factors together, it gives us a regional damage picture to our landscapes like we rarely see.

And as many trees and shrubs are now weakened from these conditions, defenseless they become more susceptible to insect and disease attack (i.e. mountain pine beetle).

So what can you do about all this? In most cases there is nothing you can do and it is important that you know the difference between site conditions and whether you have insect or disease to deal with.

It’s best to consult with trusted experts and have them come out to your property to evaluate the situation. They can help you to mitigate and prevent things like Pine Beetle infestation with proper tree and shrub care and maintenance.

CAUTION: Do NOT try to diagnose these conditions from the internet! Hire a professional Forester/Arborist to properly diagnose the situation.

Arborist Jim McGannon
Forestry and Landscape Consultant
Parker/Golden/Castle Rock, Colorado