What Is Happening To My Trees?

What Is Happening To My Trees?

September 5, 2023 by

“What is happening to my trees?” is the most common question that I’ve been hearing over the past month.  

Currently, Otter Tail County is in a D2 Severe Drought and Wadena County is in a D3 Extreme Drought.  At the D3 level, fire danger is extreme and water restrictions begin.  We see fish kills and algae growth in our shallow lakes due to low water levels and low oxygen levels.  All vegetation is stressed, including cropland and pastureland, and leaves can start to change color.

All trees are impacted by disturbance.  Some disturbance is natural, but too much can be detrimental to trees and forests.  Sometimes the disturbance is swift, like the tornadoes of 2008 and 2010 in our area.  Sometimes the disturbance takes a few years, like the situation we are in today.   

The main reason we are seeing so many tree losses is due to our drought conditions over the past 3 years.  Dry conditions in the winter of 2020 and spring of 2021 leading to extreme drought conditions in the summer of 2021, and moderate drought conditions in the fall of 2022 have all made an impact.

Insects are always in trees.  The only time we really notice is when the trees are stressed for some reason, and in this case drought.  The insects have the upper hand now as they can easily take over what once was a healthy tree but is now a tree struggling due to lack of water and more compacted soils.  And while I’m no expert in bugs and diseases, I am seeing it firsthand on my own property and in my neighborhood.

Here are a few photos with basic answers to the question “What is happening to my trees?”

Insect galls on maple leaf. Insect galls on a variety of leaves, typically on maples and oaks.  Usually just unappealing and rarely results in death of the tree.
Conifer tree turning brown due to insect damage. Noticing the tops of trees turning brown in a variety of conifers (needled trees).  Caused by many different insects including bark beetles, budworms, and wood boring insects.  These insects can quickly kill a tree as it impacts the tree’s ability to feed itself.
Pine tree with visible insect holes in the bark. Paper birch with visible insect holes in the bark. Visible insect exit holes on the bark on a range of trees from conifers, oaks, and paper birch caused by bark beetles or wood borers.  Trees can die if affected for too long.  An occasional hole is normal, but the shotgun pattern of holes is a tell-tale sign of future tree death.

Sapsucker damage on paper birch tree. Sapsucker or woodpecker damage on a variety of trees showcasing lines or rows of holes. Sometimes trees already have a wound that oozes sap and attracts insects. A sapsucker or woodpecker feeds on the sap and the insects trapped in the sap. Intensive feeding will eventually kill the tree.

If you are interested in learning more, or have a tree with noticeable symptoms, here are a few websites to check out:

The University of MN Extension website has a page where you can self-diagnose what is wrong with problems you are seeing with trees and shrubs: https://apps.extension.umn.edu/garden/diagnose/plant/

The MN DNR also has a Forest Health page on their website:

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