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Caring for Flooded Trees & Shrubs: A Comprehensive Guide

Preparing for Spring’s Rainy Season

Spring brings melting ice and increased rainfall, which can lead to flooding in certain regions. Climate change has also contributed to more precipitation in some parts of the U.S. This raises the question of how flooding affects trees and shrubs and how to help waterlogged plants recover.

This guide will discuss the symptoms of flood damage, how flooding affects trees, and how to help your plants recover from flooding.

Recognizing Symptoms of Flood Damage

Flood damage to trees depends on factors like timing, species, and the tree’s overall health. Flooding alters soil conditions, reduces oxygen supply to roots, and stresses trees, making them more susceptible to insect and disease damage. Common visible symptoms include:

  • Leaf chlorosis or yellowing followed by leaf loss
  • Smaller leaf size
  • Early fall coloration and leaf drop
  • Crown dieback
  • Small shoots emerging from the main stem
  • Alterations in seed crops in years after a flood

Assessing the Recovery Potential of Waterlogged Trees & Shrubs

While brief floods during dormancy typically don’t cause problems, flooding during the growing season can lead to significant, long-term damage. Unlike the dormant season, trees are most susceptible to flood damage during late spring and summer. Wetland species, such as bald cypress and water tupelo, are more resistant to flooding, but upland species may suffer root death after brief periods of flooding.

Understanding the Effects of Flooding on Trees

Factors that contribute to the impact of flooding on trees include:

  • Duration of flooding during the growing season
  • Limited oxygen supply to roots
  • Changes in soil pH
  • Soil erosion and deposition
  • Increased risk of pests and root rot diseases

Helping Your Plants Recover from Flooding

To care for waterlogged trees and shrubs, follow these steps once the ground dries and is stable enough for equipment:

Remove excess sediment carefully without damaging roots or the tree

  • Fill in low spots with similar soil and add organic matter
  • Replace washed-away mulch
  • Monitor trees for signs of stress
  • Fertilize based on soil test results
  • Treat trees preventatively for root rot diseases
  • Improve drainage and consider barriers to floodwaters
  • Wash salts from saltwater-flooded soils using freshwater irrigation
  • Consult a certified arborist for tree evaluations and advice
  • Monitor trees for signs of stress after floodwaters recede
  • Choose flood-tolerant species for planting in flood-prone areas

Seeking advice from a certified arborist can ensure your trees and shrubs receive the proper care they need after a flood. Following the steps outlined in this guide can help your plants recover and thrive in the aftermath of flooding.

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