The Q&A Archives: Dieing Willow

Question: We have a Weeping Willow in our front yard that when we moved in two years ago was doing just great. Over the past two years though it has progressively started to die. Our neighbors behind us haved sufferd a similar fate to the same type of tree. Ours looks like theirs did two years ago and now theirs is almost completely dead. The process starts with the smaller "weeping branches" yellowing and slowly moves upward untill the entire branch it is attached to dies. The leaves fall off as the branches die. At first we were told that it was the excessive heat we experience summer before last. Well, this past summer was not an extremely hot one and I watered the tree profusely, knowing well of its need for large quantities of water. I have had many, so called lawn and landscape specialists" look at it and no one can tell me what the problem is. We have also enlisted the help of a pesticide service when we found a large amount of ants coming out when a small nodual broke off. I also put tree fertilizer stakes in the ground surrounding the tree. We also had a major trim job done on it, to get rid of all the excessive dead material.

I fear this may be this tree's last year if I don't get some solutions soon.

Answer: Based on your description it is difficult to make a diagnosis, but it is possible that the tree is infected with bacterial twig blight, or some type of canker, especially if a neighboring tree showed similar symptoms. Willows are potentially susceptible to a large number of problems and for this reason it is always wonderful to see a large old healthy specimen. You might want to ask if your County Extension (747-8320) can help identify the problem with certainty and then possibly suggest what to do (if anything can be done) to save the tree. If the problem is truly unusual they may be able to send it to a plant pathologist for a better diagnosis. Two last thoughts, and both long shots: one is that ants have nested in and destroyed the root system -- I have seen this happen to large rose bushes, although not to trees. If this is the case, the roots would not longer be able to support the tree's needs and it would die progressively from the tips down in proportion to the root damage. The second is that there is something in the soil (or in your water) slowly affecting the plants. Water softener chemicals for example might be a cause, or some sort of mineral being off balance. Your County Extension should be able to help you look into these types of problems as well.

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