As you read the article in the Oct. 10, 2009, Express News, WERE YOU SURPRISED?!? WHY!?! Where were you in 2006 when the article about the winter drought (appropriately named the "Parsons' Drought" after everyone else realized "Oh, My God!!! We are in a severe drought!")

Did you not read the information and see the images at:

Here is one of my "favorite" e-mails from Mark Peterson—at that time working for the Texas Forest Service - now working for SAWS (which at that time was quoted in a Roddy Stinson column of Thursday, February 9, 2006, as saying: "In a lengthy statement sent to the Express-News on Wednesday, February 8, 2006, SAWS officials responded to customers' concerns and complaints.

Major points:

"Rather than use more water during these (dry) conditions, ratepayers should be using less. SAWS will not reward those who contribute most to a drop in the aquifer level".)

Mark Peterson writes about that same time:

"Also, the good news is that native and permitted exotic trees can survive without supplemental water according to Mark A. Peterson, Regional Community Forester - Alamo Region, Texas Forest Service. Mark writes: "I have yet to see the elves and pixies watering trees in the native forest. Granted, humans continue to "muck up" the native soil and ecosystem and to eliminate roots and root space, thereby necessitating the need for supplemental water. And, of course, trees in islands and confined root spaces should be treated differently. However, established native trees, with adequate soil volume [i.e, more than 2 cubic feet per one square foot canopy area, Bassuk et al], can survive without supplemental water."

"Of course, all trees, particularly evergreens prior to winter fronts followed by sunny days, benefit from a single, thorough, watering. My own choice is Groundhog day, although I have been known to do it on Martin Luther King Day or even on Valentine's Day."

"As for the other plants, I have neither the ability nor the inclination to comment on their survival rate without supplemental water. Turf, on the other hand, could and should expire with extreme prejudice. But then, I am an advocate of trees."

Mr. Peterson admitted on radio that even though the trees would survive, they will have sparse foliage, small leaves, minimal growth and reduced flowering.

Lastly, remember that the effects of this drought will linger for several years. Damage may not be readily apparent in the spring, but come summer your plants will be in a world of hurt. It will take two to three years for all the ugly symptoms of this drought to come and go and that is only if you water or timely rains have been received.


Recent rains may have come far too late for some trees
By Mary Heidbrink - Express-News - October 10, 2009

The hot, dry summer reinforced to us the value of our shade trees. Unfortunately, trees have suffered tremendously in the extreme weather. And the full extent of the damage may not be known until spring, say area experts.

Hollywood Park resident Forrest W. Appleton is holding off until spring to see if a copse of live oak trees that turned brown and shed leaves will green up, especially with recent rains. He fears, however, they are lost.

Trees that were on the edge will definitely benefit from rainfall, says Mark Duff, forester and arborist with the Texas Forest Service, especially if tips are budding out and not just the lower branches.

But he emphasizes that even a tree that looks better now still might not make it. "It's sort of like when you cut a Christmas tree and put it into water, and it stays green for a while," he says. "In the end, it will probably be May before homeowners will know if their trees will survive."

Duff says Bexar County has lost 10,000 live oak trees this year. Many other trees are showing signs of extreme stress such as thinning canopies.

Appleton has already removed a Chinquapin oak, a vitex, a crape myrtle and a Japanese persimmon.

"They were all lost to the drought or to hypoxylon canker, which was drought-stress induced," he said. "I didn't water any of them until it was too late to do any good. I was one of those who had always thought that mature, well-established trees could make it on their own."

Bone-dry soil profoundly affects tree roots, especially the hair-fine roots that gather nutrients to feed the tree, says Mark Bird, interim city arborist. Without moisture, the roots cannot take up nutrients. In drought, trees tolerate some root loss, shedding leaves to stay alive.

However, dropping leaves and dead branches don't necessarily mean a tree will die. Shedding leaves helps the tree conserve moisture, and dead branches could be a sign of wind or insect damage.

Trees that received deep supplemental watering through the summer probably will survive, although homeowners' efforts often aren't adequate to maintain trees.

Just because the grass is green doesn't mean water has soaked in far enough to reach tree roots, Duff says.

And be prepared to start watering again if the area dries up in the next few weeks.

The biggest mistake Bird says he sees is people not watering during the dormant season. When the tree isn't actively growing, the roots are growing, so it's important they receive water, he says. Our winters can be just as dry as the summers, even though the evaporation rate isn't as rapid.

So, if needed, start watering, but do it correctly.

Use soaker hoses at the drip line -- the ring of ground directly below the outer leaves -- for several hours every few weeks until there is more significant rain.

Duff recommends concentrating on the trees that provide shade around the house.

Michele Forry, owner of Michele Forry Landscape Inc., says that even though water is the only remedy for drought-stressed trees, spreading compost around the tree is always a good idea.

"You want to simulate what a tree is like in the forest," she says. "There is just leaf litter that breaks down, and it's more natural."

Now is a great time for mulching because it will help keep the rain-soaked earth moist longer, although Bird cautions not to be too heavy-handed.

More than a 2-inch layer can make it hard for water to reach the soil, he says.

Create a doughnut with the mulch, not a volcano. Piling mulch against the trunk can be fatal to the tree.

Removing grass that's growing under the tree will also help because grass competes with tree roots for nutrients and moisture.

Duff suggests marking a wide circle around the trunk of the tree then laying cardboard over the area and covering it with mulch to kill the grass.

So if you suspect you could have been taking better care of your trees, it doesn't hurt to start now. And if you lost any trees or just need more shade, keep in mind that this is the time of year to plant trees.

Appleton likely won't be replanting. He had planted all the trees he's had to cut down, and now he thinks that was a mistake on a rocky site.

"Would I do it differently? I probably wouldn't have planted the ones I did as there were already too many trees for this thin soil," he says.

Mary Heidbrink is a freelance writer based in San Antonio.


"Rain helps trees suffering heat and drought stress, but for some it could be too little too late."



Drought killing even native trees

Foresters say the best ways to take care of trees is to water them weekly and use mulch.

By Miguel Liscano
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

When Sharon Drinkwine and her husband, Bob, moved into their new Sunset Valley home in October, she noticed the leaves on a large live oak tree in their backyard were looking a bit brown.

After a few days, she called a local forester who said the problem might be oak wilt, a fungus that blocks a tree's water conducting system. Within months, the oak was dead.

Though she consulted with seven different tree experts, none could say conclusively what killed the tree, Drinkwine said.

But they did agree on one thing.

"The tree was definitely weakened by the drought," Drinkwine said. "We have other trees on the property, and they're not looking all that great either."

Arborists and foresters say trees throughout Central Texas, even native species such as live oak and hackberry, have succumbed after being ravaged by the long drought and intense summer heat.

"I have not seen it to this extent in my lifetime," said Jim Houser of the Texas Forest Service. "We're even seeing cedars (Ashe junipers) dying. They can exist on sunbaked, rocky plantscapes. And we're seeing them die all over the place."

Walter Passmore, the City of Austin's urban forester, said hundreds of the city's estimated 300,000 trees have died this summer. The city this month plans to cut down 49 trees in Zilker Park that officials say were killed by the drought.

And Don Gardner, an arborist who runs a consulting company in Austin, said he's had so many calls about sick trees that it's difficult to keep up with the work.

"Many of our well-established, well-adapted native trees are dying," Gardner said. "From last year to this year, it's really kicking in."

Houser said the death of a tree is usually attributable to a number of factors, among them disease and insects. Stress from the drought and heat is often the fatal blow, he said.

However, he said, many of the trees dying lately appear to have been in good condition.

"Apparently completely healthy, vibrant oaks are going down," Houser said. "There is just absolutely no water in the soil. There's just no water there."

To improve the health of trees, foresters recommend soaking them with about five gallons of water for every inch of trunk diameter each week. Apply water slowly so it will soak in.

They also recommended spreading 3 to 4 inches of mulch over the tree's root zone to insulate soil, prevent evaporation and prevent harm from extreme temperatures. The mulch also reduces weeds and grass, so the tree will absorb more nutrients from decomposing organic material in the mulch, the foresters said.

Foresters say insect infestations and pieces of bark falling off can be signs a tree is dying.

Passmore said dead trees on city property are cut down and turned into mulch. Trees on private property in urban areas are typically cut down as well to prevent damage from falling over.

Back in Sunset Valley, Drinkwine said she's installed a rainwater collection system to help save her other trees. And she said she's letting her dead live oak stand, for now at least.

"We really love the look of it," Drinkwine said. "So, we're going to plant wisteria around it, and vines."; 512 - 246 -1150

Tree care during drought

Three tips for keeping thirsty trees healthy:

  • Soak area under tree canopy using a hand-held hose once a week with five gallons of water for every inch of trunk diameter.
  • Apply water slowly to let it soak in.
  • Spread 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the tree. Keep mulch 6 inches away from tree trunk.

For a complete drought management guide, see:

Also for more tips about watering trees and shrubs, see the information at:

For more tips about watering annuals and perennials and a listing of drought-tolerant flowering plants, see:


From a reader:

"There's not a thing anyone can do about the dying trees in the countryside, we could have prevented this situation in the city. Once the exceptional drought was in progress, I contacted the city's arborist and expressed concern that the city had not issued a public service announcement explaining how residents could save their trees. I got an email response saying we didn't need to worry about it. What's happening is exactly what many of us knew was going to happen, yet we're not arborists by any means. The city's leadership on this issue has been pathetic. We should have been foregoing general lawn watering all along, and putting all the effort into soaking the ground around the drip line of our trees. My neighbors and I have been doing this and our trees are going to be fine. In the meantime, those who have neglected their trees are getting what they deserve. When and if they try to sell their homes, they can expect a large loss in value if their yards are devoid of large shade trees. By the way, someone was quoted in the article as saying there are "hundreds" of dying trees in Austin. It's more like "thousands". There are some areas where there are hundreds of dying trees in a single area. Oh...I wonder if the Drinkwines watered their tree that they were so concerned about. I sure hope they tried."

# Posted on 9/1/2009 12:33:34 PM from the same person:

I should clarify my remark earlier regarding my contact with the city. When I mentioned that the response was that we need not worry about it, the response meant that we need not worry about a large loss of large, mature trees due to their extensive root system. But here we are, and we're losing these trees in large numbers after all.

Another reader, Les Izmore, wrote:

"The oak trees in the Wimberley area are dying by the thousands. I thought tax dollar paid county extension agents were supposed to be advising us- via meetings and being out in the field. Where are they?"

# Posted on 9/1/2009 7:42:07 AM


I will have to give credit where credit is due—the ONLY person who knew enough about plants in San Antonio was David Rodriguez, Bexar County Extension Horticulturist!!!!


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