The drought in California is well into its 3rd year. Many people have cut back on watering their landscapes and let their lawns die. Lawns are easy to replace, but landscape trees are not. Sprinkler water may be the only water landscape trees receive during summer.

One of the symptoms of drought stress in trees happens in late summer, when trees appear to have “fall color.”

Fall Color

Normally trees begin to show fall color after nighttime temperatures turn cold. In many parts of California, this is usually in October. Tree leaves begin to turn beautiful shades of orange, red, gold and purple. Street trees like Chinese pistache, ginkgo, maple and liquidambar create a spectacular display around many towns.



Drought stressed valley oak. [H. Guenther]

This year, fall starts on September 22nd. When trees seem to have fall color in July, August and even early September, a possible cause of this symptom is drought.

Trees need ample water to keep their trunk, root system and leaves healthy. Most trees need deep water on a monthly basis during summer. When not enough water is provided, tree leaves start to show signs of drought stress. Other possible causes of early fall color include tree root restriction by pavement, compaction, mechanical injury (trunk damaged by weed trimmer, etc.) or sunburn.

Unfortunately, not much can be done to help correct the problem now. However, there may be some things you can do to help improve your tree’s health. If the tree hasn’t been watered adequately, begin deep watering on a monthly basis. Read Gardening 101: Watering.

If your tree has been wounded, protect young trees by adding a plastic sleeve around the base of the tree. Also, place mulch on the soil around the tree to remind you not to get too close while mowing and weeding.

Tree Protection

You can protect your young trees with this tree guard. Purchases made here help to support my website!