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Morton Arboretum Tree Specialist Says Drought Is Worst He’s Seen In 34 Years

Storm Clouds At Morton Arboretum

Storm clouds at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. (Credit: Morton Arboretum)

John Cody. John Cody
John Cody is a veteran reporter for Newsradio 780.
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LISLE, Ill. (CBS) — A tree specialist at the Morton Arboretum says this is the worst drought he’s seen for Chicago area trees in 34 years.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, arboretum collections vice president Kris Bachtell has received about half its normal rainfall to date – a total of 11.6 inches – leaving trees wilted, yellowed or scorched. Some leaves have a grayish cast, and some are just falling off onto the ground.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

“Well, I’ve seen more drought symptoms on more species on a much broader footprint than I’ve ever seen,” Bachtell said.

Even drought-tolerant species are showing the effects.

“Crabapples, elms, maples, buckeyes, raspberries, things just – everything you can see right now, you’re seeing, if they have not been supplementally watered, you’re seeing symptoms,” Bachtell said.

Bachtell is urging people to water their own trees, then take a 5 gallon bucket to water trees in parkways, school yards, or yards of neighbors who might not be able to water on their own.

But the problem doesn’t lie just with individuals.

Bachtell says he is especially concerned that many municipalities planted trees by the thousands in the last few years, still young trees with shallow roots, young trees which he sees drying out all over Chicagoland. He is urging municipalities to soak trees at their roots to keep them alive.

Recent pleasant weather, windy with low humidity is tough on the trees. It has been drawing water from the leaves of trees that just aren’t getting replacement water from the parched earth, Bachtell said.

Bachtell says species most drought sensitive are magnolias, dogwoods, beeches, larches, tulip trees and Japanese maples.

But he says even an extremely drought tolerant White Pine in his own back yard is wilting. He says it is the second time he’s seen this happen since in 25 years.

Bachtell says an easy test for adequate water is to see if the soil around the trees is cracked. Cracked soil shows it’s beyond dry and the dry planted needs water immediately.