Houston tree pros say drought has lasting effect on trees
Although irrigation preserved most of his landscape, watching highly rated RF Tree Service remove two 100-year-old trees from his backyard wounded David Ruth. “It’s pretty painful to watch the trees die,” says the Angie’s List member who lives near Close-In Memorial on Houston’s Westside and paid $2,350 when drought choked his trees. “We’re in an area that has a bunch of natural pines. The needles fell, and they got bare.”
Houston residents like Ruth continue to lose trees and landscapes after a 100-year drought in 2011. Statewide, Texas A&M Forest Service experts estimate that 10 percent of urban trees died, about 5.6 million, and predict the number will rise. Before cutting down a tree, if possible, highly rated Rothco Tree Service of Montgomery trims dead branches and crowns hoping for regrowth, says co-owner Matthew Roth. “Customers love their trees, so they don’t want to cut them down right away,” he says. Other Houston area residents turned to landscapers to plant heartier plants and grasses, install irrigation systems or replace grass with flagstone.
Member Kirsten Yon of Houston’s Knollwood Village neighborhood in Braeswood Place paid $6,000 for highly rated Peace of Green of Houston to gut and refurbish her yard with hearty grass, drought-tolerant plants and stones. “I’d recently bought the house in the midst of the drought, and the previous owners hadn’t kept the property at its maximum potential,” she says. “It looks like a completely different yard.”
Drought affects landscaping trends
Since the drought, Peace of Green owner James Hill changed his approach. “It affected us on the type of plants we use,” he says. “We had a freeze before the drought, and a lot of plants died. Now we know what made it through both, like boxwoods and Knock Out Roses.” Trees show signs of stress with deadwood at their crowns, and grasses and plants sometimes don’t revive after harsh conditions. Experts suggest contacting arborists for tree consultations and landscapers for yards. “Every tree is under stress,” says Mickey Merrit, Houston-area Forest Service spokesman. “The biggest issue with drought as far as residential homes is it left trees stressed and open to disease and insects.”
Bill Ward, executive director for Trees for Houston, a nonprofit that plants and gives away trees to increase foliage in the city, expects the drought’s effects to persist. “The die-off from 2011 will continue for another three to five years,” Ward says. “Large trees don’t typically die overnight. Like people, their health slowly trails off.” The largest evidence of the drought in Houston stands in the 1,500-acre Memorial Park across Interstate 610 from Ruth’s home. “When you drive through the park, it’s almost like a forest fire went through,” Ward says.
Ward suggests planting more drought-tolerant species that he says will survive even during watering restrictions. Planting shade trees on the south, west or east sides of homes can also reduce indoor energy costs and protect tile roofs, asphalt and concrete from breaking down. “Shade trees do an amazing array of things with economic impact,” Ward says. “In cities, their life span is more limited because of automobiles and construction. All you can do is plant, replant and care for what you have.”