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Michael Wheeler: Summer heat is causing tulip poplar trees to shed leaves early
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During the past week or two, I have noticed the tulip poplars around the county losing their leaves.

Tulip poplar or yellow poplar is a fast-growing tree that typically is one of the first trees to grow into a newly disturbed site. But they can live for 150-250 years and are often found in areas that have not been disturbed for decades.

One of the best places to see mature and majestic yellow poplars is along the walking trail at Wilshire Trails Park. The poplars there enjoy a moist environment from Rock Creek and remind me of some of the protected cove sites in the Smoky Mountains.

But back to the issue at hand.

This summer has been one of the hottest on record, and the trees are feeling it, along with the rest of us. And the tulip poplar is an indicator tree. It is very sensitive to weather changes and can be used to gauge the extent of the drought in the area.

The cause for the leaf drop of poplars around Hall County is because of the dry, hot weather. This is a natural way for the tree to get through a dry period in the summer. Typically, poplars will do this every summer, but this year it seems to be happening a little bit earlier.

Let me put it a different way. Think of trees as giant straws. They suck water out of the ground, and the water travels up the trunk and out to the leaves. When weather is dry and hot, the tree is unable to get as much water as it may need. So, to balance things out, it drops its leaves.

Even though it is disturbing and messy, it is completely natural for the trees. If a tree was in good health prior to the leaf drop in the summer, it will survive just fine. However if a tree did not leaf out well or was struggling earlier in the summer, the dry weather may be enough to push it over the edge.

We can’t do much to help except hope we get a few tropical weather storms to come up from the Gulf of Mexico and put down a few inches of rain this late summer and early fall.

I also recommend not fertilizing or stressing the tree by hurting its root system. Applying fertilizer is opposite to what the tree is trying to do, and that is just to hang on and survive. Parking cars or tilling the soil under a tree will destroy vital roots and hurt the tree.

Keep an eye on your poplars and let’s all hope for some good rain over the next few weeks. If you have any questions, call at the Hall County Extension Office.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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