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Wheeler: What is happening to the poplar trees?
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Just over 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 sited. 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 along the trail enjoy a moist environment from Rock Creek, and they remind me of some of the protected cove sites in the Smoky Mountains.

This summer has been one of the hottest on record and the trees are feeling it, along with the rest of us.

Tulip poplar is an indicator tree. It is very sensitive to changes in the weather, and can be used to gauge the extent of the drought in the area.

The cause for the leaf drop on our poplars around Hall County is due to the dry, hot conditions. This is a natural way for the tree to get through a dry period during the summer.

Typically, poplars will do this every summer, but this year it seems to be happening a little bit earlier.

Trees can be thought of as giant straws. They suck water out of the ground, and the water travels up the trunk and out the leaves.

When weather is dry and hot, the tree is not able to get as much water as it may need, so in order to balance things out, it drops its leaves.

Even though it is disturbing and messy, it is completely natural for the trees to do this. If a tree was in good health prior to the leaf drop in the summer, it will survive just fine to see another growing season.

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.

There is not much we can do 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 late this summer and fall.

I do recommend not fertilizing or stressing the tree by hurting its root system. Applying fertilizer now is opposite to what the tree is trying to do right now, and that is just to hang on and survive but not grow.

Parking cars or tilling the soil under a tree will destroy vital roots and hurt the tree.

Keep an eye on your poplars and lets all hope for some good rain over the next few weeks. If you have any questions, please give us a call at the office.

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

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