Austin trees are going bald; UT arborist explains why autumn isn’t to blame

Weather & Traffic In-Depth

AUSTIN (KXAN) – With autumn here, you may be looking at Central Texas’ trees a little more often than you usually do. If you’re anything like us, you may have noticed something peculiar — a bunch of trees have bald patches all over them.

These bald patches aren’t because of the seasonal change, according to the University of Texas’ Urban Forestry Supervisor Jennifer Hrobar. Instead, they’re damage leftover from February winter storm.

“This was a very off event in that there haven’t been any real defined patterns,” Hrobar said about some of the stranger damage she’s seen over the years.

Why are some parts of the trees bald and others not?

“Maybe the upper crown was sticking out more exposed to (the) winds and the cold temperatures that killed that tissue, where as the main stems were more protected,” Hrobar said.

Essentially, as the temperature plummeted, the cells inside the trees froze. This meant that some limbs, but “trees don’t heal, they seal.” Instead of letting that creeping cold take their lives, the trees sealed off frozen limbs. This meant the limb died while the tree survived.

“That’s called compartmentalization,” Hrobar said.

Why did some trees survive while others were fine?

Hrobar says which trees survived depended less on species and more on where the tree is located and what protection it had.

“Live oaks, which we tend to think of as a very great tree for urban areas … some came through with flying colors, others we completely lost.”

Hrobar said that at this point, any limbs you see that don’t have leaves on them are dead.

“This wood that’s dead, if you don’t remove it, nature’s going to remove it for you.”

Hrobar said you should contact a certified arborist to get rid of those dead limbs. Doing it yourself could be dangerous.

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