“The Standing Dead”…. Decisions about Casper’s beleaguered trees

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I am sure thankful that our poor landscapes didn’t suffer any catastrophic weather events in 2015. I don’t think we could tolerate another storm or weather event destroying our suffering landscape. Unfortunately, there are still a great many consequences from the storm named Atlas in October 2013 and the freeze of November 2014 (I am not sure what they named it, but many unkind words have been used to describe it).

We are entering the second spring season after the freeze that killed so many trees and this should be a good year to determine the final outcome for most trees and plants affected by that weather event. If your tree doesn’t have many live branches, you need to have it removed ASAP, because if you don’t, it will only become more dangerous as it decays.

The quandary exists in the many trees and shrubs that are not totally dead. It is difficult to know if those few tufts of lively branches are going to be enough to sustain the tree’s root system enabling the tree to grow past the dead and regain vitality. Obviously at some point the large dead portions will need to be pruned out because those dead branches pose the same hazardous characteristics of decay and failure as the completely dead trees. It will take some more time to determine if the tree has enough viable tissue to sustain life after the obvious dead is pruned out. You (the homeowner) must decide how tolerant you are of the “standing ugliness” in your recovering trees. There is no right answer or prescribed equation that can be applied to every tree…..many have said “if half the tree is dead then you must remove it” and this is categorically not true. There are too many variables to expound in this publication that will ultimately decide if your tree will regain its former beauty, but I can assure you that many will return to healthy form.

Nursing your tree back to health will require patient observation and some careful strategy to ensure the best outcome. First, you will need to have an experienced holistic arborist (one who doesn’t want to cut your tree down) observing your tree to consult you through the process. You will need to help provide water and nutrients to the tree because it cannot survive this unless you provide it the ideal circumstances. Fertilizing your tree in the spring and fall will provide the nutrients that the tree roots cannot get from the dead branches. Remember, the freeze didn’t affect the root system, only the branches, so replacing those lost nutrients will provide energy to the roots that later translates into new branches. Second, you will need to protect the tree from pests and disease. These trees are very vulnerable to pests and disease much like a weak cancer patient and you must protect them throughout their recovery. Third, you need to be patient and observant. It will take 5-10 years for things to really turn around and your participation will be required every step of the way. Obviously, there is some liability to consider here and you will need to be vigilant as you ensure that dead limbs and dead trees are removed before they fall on something or someone.

Lastly, remember that there were no trees here 100 years ago. However, many visionary community folk refused to stand around lamenting the abundant sage brush so they defied nature and planted thousands of trees that still resonate beauty here in Casper. So, while you nurse mature trees back to health for the next 5-10 years, take the time to plant some more; because in 10 years they will have grown notably and in 100 years you will be applauded for your courage to make our city beautiful.

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