Too many dry autumns take a toll on city elms

They are a disturbing and unnatural sight — sort of a deciduous equivalent to Cousin Itt.

They are a disturbing and unnatural sight — sort of a deciduous equivalent to Cousin Itt.

Certain trees around Red Deer are resembling the enigmatic, all-over furry relative in The Addams Family TV series and movies, by growing bushy shoots everywhere where leaves shouldn’t be.

Their trunks are covered in dense foliage, while the top branches are going bare.

This strange bottom-heavy spectacle — especially prevalent among the elm trees around the Michael O’Brien wetlands north of Clearview — is caused by three consecutive fall droughts, City of Red Deer arborist Elaine Johnson said Wednesday.

“These trees are basically in survival mode,” she added — although ‘death throes’ might be a more accurate description of some more stressed specimens.

Johnson said the city is assessing these dying elms, and also some similarly distressed schubert choke cherry and green ash trees, to see if they can be saved or must be replaced. “We’re looking at what the trees will look like (after pruning the dead branches) and we’re also looking at their structure. If it’s a big tree we have to consider safety first.”

City parks workers tried to do extra waterings last fall to compensate for drought conditions, but Johnson said new plantings were prioritized.

The trees around the O’Brien wetland are several years old and were thought to have a better chance of survival, being near water.

If drought sets in again after the summer storm season ends, Johnson said parks department workers, who are now busy with clearing breakage from windstorms, will have to step up waterings. They may also have to reconsider the kind of trees that are planted here in future.

The arborist said some scientists believe there will be a mass extinction of trees with climate change. “I know some people don’t believe in it,” but if unnaturally dry falls become the norm, she added, “we’ll see if our trees are telling us something.”

Home owners are advised to water in trees on their properties before winter — especially if there’s only light precipitation in the fall. A heavy snowfall won’t necessarily guarantee tree health, said Johnson.

She noted that turf competes with trees for moisture, so grass shouldn’t be allowed to grow right up to tree trunks.