Posted in Conservation, Oh noes!, Plants

Long term drought, burning permits, and brush fires

We recently had what’s known as a “red flag” warning in MA due to high winds and lack of recent ongoing precipitation, and there’s at least one brush fire that happened around then, and then another recently, and then yet another made the news.  So it looks like we’re not out of the woods yet despite milder winds.  Now it may seem odd to get such when there’s still snow on the ground in many places, but here we are.  I remember noticing last year how many evergreens around our neighborhood looked or outright were dying.  After the last major windy spell, I found myself picking up yet again more deadfall from the trees on or bordering our property, and that’s when I noticed the die back wasn’t just in other places in the neighborhood.

Our deadfall wood pile so far this year.
Since we’ve moved here in March 2017, this deadfall wood pile is at least five times more than we have had prior by this time, and I still haven’t picked up all the thicker branch bits from the blackberry bush area.

When we were hanging out on our porch swing earlier today, I realized that even our neighbor on the corner across the street’s magnificent conifer looked like a shadow of its former self.  When our neighbor Louise was still alive, she told me about how she remembered when that tree on the corner was small enough they would easily decorate it for Christmas.  Now, you’d need a bucket truck to do so because it’s that tall.

So when I found myself yet again staring at the property border trees that we had once yanked the oriental bittersweet from, noticing that they too seemed a shadow of themselves, I thought to write this post, because we’ve had drought conditions that I know of for the last two years now.  I wasn’t paying as close attention the years before that because so much else was going on and I was barely even starting to have my nose in the books (or glowing from the screen) about gardening.

When I did look up why the lack of needles could be such a thing, one of the reasons that stood out was this: “In drought-like conditions, evergreens may have trouble getting enough water to all their needles. As a result, bottom needles die to help hydrate the rest of the tree.”  As I checked another source I found this as well (Note: I don’t think these are pine trees, but the info seems across the board with other sites addressing evergreens in general), “Water stress – A pine tree dying from bottom up might actually be a pine tree drying from bottom up. Water stress in pines can cause needles to die. Lower branches may die from water stress in order to prolong the life of the rest of the tree. Prevent dead needles on lower pine branches by preventing water stress. Give your pines a drink during especially dry periods. It also helps to apply organic mulch over the root area of your pine to hold in moisture.”

A lot of sickly looking trees, though some conifers in the background seem to be faring better, but not by much..
This is the same stand of trees shown in all the non deadwood pile images in this post.

I had also noticed that recently someone from the neighboring house had pushed the former carpet of pine needles surrounding the trees to our side of the property. It seems they’re going to try to plant something on the other side of them because there are two white plastic trellis panels leaned up against some smaller trunks over there. That means they’ve now lost any moisture retention mulch around their trunks which will only make things worse as it warms up.

Normally, I’d be grateful for all those needles to use where I need more acid in garden beds, but this is something I’m going to need to talk to our neighbors about as soon as I can.  If the two biggest trees die, depending on how they fall they may take out our garage or their garage.

Here’s a gallery showing the two biggest trees.  The first is what they looked like back on June 29, 2017, when we were about to help remove some oriental bittersweet that had climbed quite a ways up the tree.  The third was taken today.  I’m trying to see if I can find I found another image from a halfway between point so you can see how sudden the needle loss has been–look how thick the branches seem even laden with snow.  I actually wrote about this small stand of trees before, so the image on the left may seem familiar.

Now there’s a chance that this is not just the drought.  Especially because any trees wanting for water become weaker which makes them more vulnerable to a host of other issues that plague conifers and other evergreens. Still, it’s definitely a contributing factor even if it’s not the only one.

So please keep in mind, even if your locale allows for permitted burning, do check with your local fire department beforehand to find out if maybe you should hold off on a burn for a while.

For more drought info, check the NOAA site.

Care to share thoughts on this?