Trees feeling the heat amid drought-like conditions on Vancouver Island
A dying Western redcedar in the Highlands. (Photo: The Land Conservancy of BC)
The leaves on a normally lush looking Pacific dogwood tree are drooping and limp.
A sure sign, according to experts, that the tree has been stressed by drought conditions on Vancouver Island.
The lack of rain is impacting more and more trees.
“I’ve seen some broad leaf maple that the edge of the leaves are all crispy and brown and those are dead,” said Barbara Hawkins, a tree physiologist and professor at the University of Victoria's Centre for Forest Biology.
However, she was quick with reassurances that in all likelihood, it doesn’t mean the end of the tree, just the leaves.
“We are getting to the end of summer anyhow and then they’d lose their leaves in the autumn, so sometimes it’s called ‘drought-deciduous’ when they lose them a bit early because they’ve dried out,” explained Hawkins.
But some trees are feeling the heat more than others.
Hawkins has seen quite a few Western red cedars on the island which are dying.
“I’m pretty sure it’s due to drought so I think we are losing Western red cedar trees that are growing in the wrong spot," she said.
The Land Conservancy of B.C. is also keeping a concerned eye on the W estern red cedars.
Karen Iwachow, a Conservation Programs Coordinator with TLC, has been working the Highlands and Shawnigan Lake areas.
"The Western red cedars are dying off fairly quickly, there’s a lot of dead trees,” she said.
It isn’t just this hot, dry summer causing it. Iwachow said it has been at least three years that the trees have been dealing with drought-like conditions.
She said a lower water table is exacerbating the problem.
“When they are not getting that rain they need, they would grab the water from the water table but that’s getting lower too, so they are starting to get stressed out for sure."
She emphasized that points to the importance of water conservation.
Obviously, entire forests can’t be watered, and it is early going, so at this point TLC is monitoring the situation.
Urban trees, on the other hand, can be helped with proper watering, done slowly.
The soil is so dry it almost repels water, a condition known as hydrophobic, so if you blast water at a tree, it’ll just run off.
“A small application like a dribble or a drip for 24 hours. You are not putting down large volumes, you are putting down small volumes over a large period of time,” said Dwayne Neustaeter, President of Arboriculture Canada, a company which trains arborists.
He suggested using a soaker hose, or something similar.
“You want to focus around the entire, underneath the canopy particularly the outer edge of the canopy because that’s where the water will naturally kid of drip off known as the drip line,” he said.
Neustaeter said most trees have enough reserve energy to get through lengthy droughts.
“Trees are survivors,” he said.
It's a thought echoed by Hawkins, who said even if your tree’s condition appears grim, keep watering and don’t give up on it yet.
“Leave it through the winter see what happens next spring because plants are amazingly resilient so they may even lose all their leaves now and still be all right next year.”