Keep your eyes on the forest

Now is a great time to monitor your sentinel tree!

Summer is a great time to enjoy trees. Trees of all kinds - shade trees, ornamental trees, forest trees, park trees and fruit trees – make our lives better just by being there. One thing you can do in return is monitor the health of the trees that touch your life. Now is the perfect time to size up the tree’s health by looking at the color, shape and fullness of the leaves in the tree’s canopy, which is another name for its branches and leaves.

Keep in mind that trees are a living organism and part of an ecological system wherever they are growing. The trees growing in urban as well as open grown forests serve as hosts to a variety of insects, most of which do little harm to the tree when feeding on or developing within the tissue of a tree. The losses a tree endures for the tiny wasp that hatches from the gall on its leaves are just part of the process, and have little effect on the overall health of the tree. What becomes worrisome is when entire branches turn brown or when over half of the leaves on the tree show signs of being munched by a caterpillar. Those types of issues should be investigated further by calling your local Michigan State University Extension Office or your local Conservation District for assistance.

Here are a few pieces of information to have handy when you call someone about your ailing tree:

What type of tree is it? A simple tree guide can help you identify a tree based on its leaves. You can also compare the bark and twig description of the tree to be sure you have identified it correctly. In fact, tree identification is a fun family activity, and can take place well before an issue with the tree arises.

Where is it growing? Trees planted next to roads, driveways and sidewalks can suffer from soil compaction that adversely affects the root system. When a tree suffers from root damage from soil compaction, the flow of water and nutrients to the branches and leaves can be disrupted, causing a branch or portion of the tree to turn brown. In turn, the road, driveway or sidewalk can be damaged by roots pushing up underneath it. Remember to follow guidelines for, “right tree, right place” before planting a tree to avoid root or infrastructure damage.

What does it look like? Are the leaves turning brown at the top of the tree first, or is it beginning from the leaves at the bottom of the tree? Is one main branch affected, or is it multiple branches on the same, or different sides of the tree? Spend a few minutes looking over the tree to fully observe the ailment. Also, take some pictures or a leaf sample to help describe what you are seeing. This will allow the person on the phone to be able to narrow down a cause, and possible treatment for the tree.

Join the crowd!

Michigan State University Extension professionals have developed a Sentinel Tree Monitoring program, through which an individual tree is monitored throughout the year for signs of decline. The data collected through each monitoring session is recorded in the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) website, and helps to guide tree health surveys across the state. In addition, MISIN can used to record and view the occurrence of invasive species, both aquatic and terrestrial, across the Midwestern United States. Visit the MISIN website, and sign up to monitor a Sentinel Tree today!

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