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Dry weather starting to impact Whatcom County trees

Video: Workers cut down trees in Bellingham neighborhood

Rawls Tree Service crews remove cottonwood trees that threatened homes in a south Bellingham neighborhood on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Bellingham Herald reporter Dave Gallagher narrates.
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Rawls Tree Service crews remove cottonwood trees that threatened homes in a south Bellingham neighborhood on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Bellingham Herald reporter Dave Gallagher narrates.

While the warm and dry weather is nice for many Whatcom County residents, it’s been stressful for this area’s trees.

After a relatively dry winter, the lack of rain this spring and summer is resulting in signs of stress among many trees. This includes the browning of needles and the early leaf change to fall colors, said David Stice, a certified arborist who works at WesSpur Tree Equipment in Bellingham.

“The smaller trees are having a rough time,” said Stice, adding that the trees in urban areas are showing more signs of stress than in the nearby forests.

While trees are showing signs of needing water, there haven’t been too many dying, said Ben Rawls of Rawls Tree Service in Bellingham. His company works throughout the year providing a variety of tree services, including pruning and tree removal. He added that he’d seen more trees dying a few years ago when a bug devastated many pine trees in Bellingham, particularly in the Happy Valley neighborhood.

“For the trees to survive like this, I’m a little surprised,” Rawls said.

Stice said he’s not seeing too many trees dying yet and doesn’t expect that to happen in the coming weeks, which is traditionally a dry time of year in Whatcom County. But long-term drought would be an issue.

“If this (dry weather) continues into next year, it won’t be pretty,” Stice said.

For some trees that are stressed, it may be too late. Brandon Brodie, an arborist at Earthworks Tree Service in Bellingham, said during a recent rainstorm several trees soaked in water and either fell over or had branches break because of the weight. Cottonwood trees in particular are known for swelling up with water and breaking if stressed, he said.

One other problem with the stressed trees is that it can make other problems worse, Stice said. A tree that’s in bad shape because of the dry weather will be less able to fend off bugs and diseases.

Rawls’ company, which has been in business locally for 15 years, has had a steady summer of projects. While the lack of water has curtailed growth for many, some trees have thrived, taking advantage of the sunnier days to create extra growth. That’s led his company to do some trimming or tree removal for those that are becoming a safety hazard by growing into wires or too close for nearby homes.

For those who study trees, however, the concern is how long the trees can handle this stretch.

“My guess is that we will see more dead trees by the end of summer in non-forested areas,” Brodie said. “I’ve rarely seen it this dry.”

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.

WHAT TO DO WITH STRESSED TREES

Here’s a list of recommendations from local arborists on what homeowners can do to help trees that are stressed because of a lack of water:

▪  When it comes to watering, a good infrequent soaking is better. Letting the water soak into the ground around the tree promotes deeper root growth, said David Stice, a certified arborist at WesSpur Tree Equipment in Bellingham. Brandon Brodie, an arborist at Earthworks Tree Service in Bellingham, recommends homeowners use a soaker hose rather than a sprinkler device for trees because a sprinkler increases ground compaction.

▪  If the trees are showing signs of stress, skip the pruning for this year. The only time Stice would recommend pruning this year is for dead branches or if there is a safety issue.

▪  Don’t use fertilizer, because it forces the tree to expend energy to process fertilizer.

▪  Be careful when it comes to landscaping. Avoid digging and adding new soil around the tree during this dry period.

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