What’s wrong with this aspen tree?

What’s wrong with this aspen tree?

The question was asked about the aspen tree pictured, standing around 10 yards from where the owner and I were standing. What’s wrong with that aspen tree? Here is what I saw from that vantage point in the customer’s yard.

aspen tree from afar

We were discussing another tree at that point so I made a note to check it. With aspen, it could be anything be it scale, aphids, drought, deer damage even SAD (sudden aspen decline). If there is a tree disease that gives away the truth, it’s SAD which is a fancy arborist way of saying, we have no clue.

While it appears more likely that SAD is primarily a drought die-off, it underlies the complexity of diagnosing aspen trees for disease. Whether to trim, maintain or remove aspen is far from a clear-cut decision.

After finishing up on another couple of questions I approached the aspen in question.

aspen with deer fence

The presence of the wire fencing around the trunk of the tree indicated an effort to fend off deer from stripping and eating the bark. Evidence like that can make the diagnosis of aspen easier. However, when I got even closer it revealed a very clear-cut reason for the aspen’s troubles, one any person, arborist or not, could diagnose.

aspen bracing girdling tree

Basically, the bracing of the tree (that brown belt) had penetrated the trunk as the aspen grew and was girdling the tree. Girdling will constrict water or nutrients from moving throughout the trunk.

No wonder the aspen was dying from the top. This underscores not leaving the bracing on a young tree more than a season or two.

However, the moral of the story is while an arborist might throw out some fancy terms in our descriptions of a disease condition, not every tree care issue requires more than a cursory glance at your tree. Sometimes taking a common-sense look at your trees and why they are struggling will reveal a simple fix. If the owners of this tree had done that a few years ago they possibly could have removed the cabling and the tree would be in good health.

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