Tree Care & Preservation for New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick & Onslow Counties

drowning trees with water covering the roots

Flooded or Overwatered Trees: Symptoms & Treatment

Whether it’s due to the after-effects of one of the hurricanes or floods that hit the Wilmington area, or simply from overwatering, trees can suffer from too much water. Essentially, waterlogged trees can drown.

Some trees, like black willow, river birch, and yellow poplar, not only survive but thrive in swampy, wet locations. If you have those kinds of trees on your property, they should be just fine.

But if you have trees that work better in normal soil conditions, you should keep an eye on any trees that have been inundated with water for signs of distress. Symptoms of excessive water can include:

  • Leaves turning yellow or brown at the edges
  • Wilting or drooping leaves
  • Leaves browning at the center
  • Green leaves that are brittle

How can a tree drown?

So how can a tree drown? Doesn’t it need water to grow?

It does, but too much of anything can be a bad thing. Roots not only get water and nutrients from the soil around them, they get oxygen as well. Well-aerated soil has pockets of oxygen, which the roots take up and send to the rest of the tree.

When the soil becomes waterlogged, the pockets of air are filled with water. Without oxygen, the roots can die. Without roots to sustain the tree and bring moisture, the tree becomes dried out and sickly. So, in an ironic twist, your tree could die from lack of moisture … because of too much water in the soil. The tree, in effect, suffocates from lack of oxygen and/or root rot.

How Can You Tell if a Tree Has Too Much Water?

Watch to see if your tree exhibits any of the signs mentioned above. Leaf scorching or browning will generally start at the top of the tree and the ends of branches. It’s often more noticeable on the side of the tree that faces the wind.

Another sign that there is too much moisture in your soil can be the appearance of mushrooms, algae, or moss around the bottom of the tree. These organisms thrive on excess water.

What Can Be Done?

Prevention is the best cure. Ensure that flood-tolerant trees and plants are planted in areas of your property where you often have standing water, and flood-intolerant species are on higher, well-drained ground.

How to help your trees after a hurricane, tropical storm, or flooding

After a flood, you can’t do anything until the floodwater recedes. If the floodwater was from the ocean, flush out the salt water (which can be deadly to trees) by watering thoroughly with freshwater. Remove debris and excess soil around plants and trees, and look for areas that are not draining well.  

If the water flooding your trees is due to a storm, not much can be done immediately. You can improve the drainage to help divert water away from the trees. If there is mulch around the tree, temporarily remove it. Mulch is meant to hold in moisture, so removing it might help the tree “breathe” better.

How to help your trees if you’ve over-watered them

If the water-saturated ground is from your own watering, change the settings on your irrigation system or adjust when and how much you water. The best method is to water deeply and infrequently, so if you’re watering every day, it might be too much for your trees to handle.

When it’s time to call in a professional

If you’re not sure how your trees are faring after a storm or if you notice signs of distress in your tree, a qualified, experienced certified arborist will be able to provide a consultation. The yellowing of leaves from root die-back looks very similar to the effects from certain tree pests or diseases, but an arborist will be able to determine the cause and create a treatment program to work towards making your trees healthy again.

For a longer-term solution for waterlogged trees, sometimes deep-root fertilization can help to aerate the soil around a tree and add back in needed nutrients. Professional fertilizer will have a low salt index and slow release nitrogen to ensure no additional damage to the roots is done.

With more extensive damage, other treatment options may be possible. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

If the area where your tree is located has consistent water pooling, it may become necessary to move the tree to another location where drainage is better and the roots can receive oxygen from the soil. However, this should be one of the last resorts, as moving a well-established tree can harm it further.

Long-term Care of Waterlogged Trees

It may take trees a few seasons to recover, depending on how long they were deprived of oxygen. Keep an eye on your trees and look for any continuing signs of distress. Many symptoms may not pop up until months later, especially if we have an especially hot, dry period.

Stressed trees need extra care, so proper tree maintenance is vital. Working with a certified arborist, as well as tasks like pruning, mulching, aeration and watering during dry seasons, can all help to revive your trees. If you lost trees and want to plant new ones, an arborist will know the right place to plant the right kind of tree.