The 2011 drought that gripped the entire state of Texas took a severe toll on the trees throughout the state. According to the Austin-American Statesman, an estimated 5.6 million urban trees were lost across the state with 1,200 of those in the Austin area. The devastation seen in the urban pine forests of East Texas has avoided here Austin because most of the trees here are naturally adapted to dealing with extremes of weather.

Not all of the Austin-area trees survived last year’s drought, and homeowners should be able to recognize signs that trees on their property are dead and need removal. Leaving a dead tree in place puts the home at risk of being damaged by a fallen limb or tree. If the tree has not begun to leaf out yet, it is likely dead. A tree that has 100 percent brown leaves or does not have green under the bark may also be dead. Depending on the size and location of the tree, a professional tree removal service may be needed. If the tree is exceptionally tall or thin or is growing within 10 feet of a power line, hire a professional certified arborist to take it down to avoid self-injury. Consider hiring us.

Once the dead trees have been removed from the lot, replacing them with drought-tolerant or resistant options may prevent a repeat of mass tree death in the next drought. Texas mountain laurel and Mexican buckeye are both resistant to drought, but even these trees can die if not properly cared for. With another drought predicted for 2012, understanding and carrying out correct watering for the trees on the lot can help to get them through the dry spell.

When watering the trees, the trunk is not watered. A drip irrigation or hose system should be placed at the drip line of the tree long enough to wet the soil down to five inches below the surface. If a repeat of 2011’s drought occurs this year, the newly planted trees to replace those killed by the 2011 drought will be most susceptible to being killed by the weather. Water trees planted in the last two years two to three times per week during the hot summer months and weekly for the rest of the year. Established trees only need watering every two to three weeks in warm weather and monthly in cooler months.

As bad as the drought was, even worse damage for the predicted 2012 dry spell can be avoided by preventative steps taken by the homeowner to remove dead trees, plant drought-resistant trees, and keep those trees watered. If any of those is beyond the time or knowledge of the homeowner, a professional tree service company should be consulted to get the trees the best possible care.

The Heavy Tolls of the Drought on Austin Trees and What Homeowners Can Do