Drought and disease are killing thousands of Minnesota trees — but a local arborist has ideas that can help

Drought and disease are killing thousands of Minnesota trees — but a local arborist has ideas that can help

Drought and disease are killing thousands of Minnesota trees — but a local arborist has ideas that can help

Drought and disease are keeping arborist Alicia Hagerty and her team busy these days.

“Every tree has its breaking point,” she says. “It’s catastrophic because it’s just heavy. I don’t like to see trees go.”

In Burnsville, we found Hagerty and her crew pruning healthy trees.

But just next door, leafless treetops and dry pine branches tell the story.

“That’s the drought,” Hargerty says, showing us a low-hanging dry branch. “The needles will shake off. It’s like skin.”

She explains since March, her company — Arbor Gold Tree Service — has removed 100 dead trees, with appointments to take out several hundred more.

A backlog of up to six weeks.

Hagerty says back-to-back drought seasons in Minnesota are weakening the trees’ ability to fight disease and pests like the Emerald Ash Borer.

“The drought and the disease together, I think that’s what’s taking a lot of these trees,” she notes. “It’s the combination of them together. It’s taken them by the hundreds.”

A National Weather Service drought map shows nearly 65% of the state remains “abnormally dry.”

Experts say that’s not good news for trees already dealing with “drought stress.”

“They’re going to need a couple of summers of rainfall and no extreme heat to recover,” declares Lee Frelich, the Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology.

He says heat, lack of water, and even winter winds can wreak havoc on tree growth.

“The wind just evaporates water from the tree and it’s what we call ‘winter burn’ and it was really, really bad this winter,” Frelich says. “The type of weather that we’ve had just sucks so much water out of the trees, that limits root development, so much so that for newly planted trees, it’s just been a really bad couple of years.”

How bad?

The Department of Natural Resources says thousands of Minnesota trees have been lost in that time.

Emma Schultz, a DNR Community Forest Project Specialist, says even young, planted trees are dying.

“In the Twin Cities metro, I would say it’s pretty severe,” she explains. “One municipality in the Twin Cites had a 35% mortality for the bearer trees they planted in 2022.”

The DNR says young trees need between 15-25 gallons of water a week.

All of this worries homeowners like Steve Gray, of Burnsville.

He’s lived on the same property for 47 years.

Reluctant to water during drought season, Gray says he’s lost several trees, and hired Hagerty to remove them.

He worries about the future.

“Dead or dying or damaged, a little bit of everything,” Gray says. “I think we’re headed for hotter, dryer weather and that’s something we’d better get used to, and something we’d better plan on, hot and dry.”

Hagerty says although there are no guarantees, there are steps you can take if you suspect one or more of your trees are dying.

She showed us how her team injects hormones to stimulate root growth.

Fertilizer treatment, Hagerty says, can give a tree extra nutrients.

Plenty of extra water, she adds, is one of the main weapons to fight back against this dry season.

“It’s sad, it’s really sad for me,” Hagerty says. “I guess I would rather see a tree service. That’s why I got into it, I want to preserve it, our environment. I want to be a part of that. It’s so important to our everyday life.”