Drought expected to draw more pests, fewer fall colors to Central Texas

Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 12:21 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The state’s drought is bringing some unwelcome visitors to Central Texas.

Due to the stress it has taken on trees, experts say Central Texans can expect to see more pests...and less fall colors this year.

“Drought has a lot of effects on trees that are negative,” said Courtney Blevins, Regional Forester for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Anytime a tree gets stressed, insects and disease problems escalate.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Monday, most of Central Texas is in ‘severe’ drought with some parts under ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ drought, which is causing trees to show signs of stress...and insects like beetles and aphids feed on that stress.

“We have had an increase in some of these pests,” said Blevins. ”Something we’re seeing a lot of: an increase in aphids in things like Pecans and Crape Myrtle’s where we’re getting all this sticky residue on the leaves and on the grounds underneath, and that’s just the waste product from these aphids.”

And what will be coming around to eat those aphids? Larger insects.

There’s more potential fallout besides the bugs: while Central Texas isn’t known for having a traditional ‘Fall’ appearance like the East Coast, it will probably look even less Fall-like this year.

“Even in the best years of Fall color, we’re never going to look like New England,” said Blevins. “The total number of trees with undamaged leaves is less, just that in itself would probably indicate less fall color.”

Some trees have started losing their leaves early or have damaged yellow and brown leaves...others need cooler weather to show their colors.

“Some of them will be pretty obvious, and some we’ll just have to wait and see, the ones that have been damaged and have already gone dormant, we’re obviously not going to get any fall color out of those,” said Blevins. “So the question is: will we see the normal amount of reds and purples, because if those leaves have damaged and they’ve basically gone dormant already, then these sugars may not get trapped in the leaves that form the red and purple colors.”

He says it’s species dependent, too.

“Elms for instance, Elms Fall color is usually yellow no matter what the weather conditions as long as the leaves are still on there,” said Blevins. “Some other species like the Red Oaks, they’re usually purple or red, so I’m guessing those will be the ones we see the most effects in.”

Experts say, like in 2011, the effects of this drought could be seen for years to come.

“After the 2011 drought we had, the next four or five years we saw a dramatic increase in a disease called Hypoxylon,” said Blevins. “Don’t just think once the drought ends, next year everything’s going to be normal with the trees, they’re still going to be stressed.”

However, Blevins says don’t give up: there are still things Central Texans can do to help de-stress their trees, like supplemental watering.

“And the other thing to do, this is super huge and it’s super simple and cheap, if people have grass growing under their trees...if they can replace that with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch--that has all kinds of benefits to the tree,” said Blevins. “It’s long-term, it’s not a quick fix, but what you’re trying to do is just reduce the overall stress to the tree and that reduces pests.”

While it may be tempting to buy pesticides to get rid of the bugs, Blevins says, save your money and wait until Spring.

“You wouldn’t want to do it this time of year because the leaves are already damaged and they’re fixing to fall off for Winter anyway, so you’d just be wasting your money,” said Blevins. “If you do want to apply some type of insecticide, go for it in the Spring when the leaves are about to come out.”