Weather

Saturated ground makes trees vulnerable to being uprooted

When water saturated the ground around a tree, no matter how storm-hardy a breed it is, it can compromise the root system. Like being in a bowl of water, tree experts say, the roots have nothing to hold onto, and the tree is easily blown over by wind.
When water saturated the ground around a tree, no matter how storm-hardy a breed it is, it can compromise the root system. Like being in a bowl of water, tree experts say, the roots have nothing to hold onto, and the tree is easily blown over by wind. klnelson@sunherald.com

If you have a container garden planted in soil, the roots are going to suffer from lack of drainage.

But so will large trees in yards, when the ground gets too saturated for their roots to hold on.

With the constant bombardment of rain over days, trees and some gardens will have difficulty draining enough before the next wave of rain comes in.

Large trees can suffer root compromise and topple if the ground around them is so wet the roots can’t keep it stable.

“Whenever the ground gets saturated like this, it’s like sitting in a bowl of water. The roots don’t have anything to hold onto,” said Ben Kahlmus, with Fulgham’s Tree Preservation and Consultants. “The trees become top-heavy and the slightest wind can push them over.”

Kahlmus and Kevin Hall, Pascagoula’s landscape and beautification expert, talked with the Sun Herald about what the Coast is facing over the next few days.

Jackson County and the rest of the Coast are projected to have heavy rain on and off through Thursday, after an already wet spring and rain last week. Unfortunately, tornadoes and high winds are also projected for areas of South Mississippi.

On Wednesday, Kahlmus said, “I drove to Keesler AFB this morning. There are yards just full of water. If it keeps sitting like that, if we get a strong wind, I expect trees to come down.”

Kahlmus said some areas of the Coast reached soil saturation this past week and now there have been days of constant rain.

Some are more susceptible than others, he said, the pine is one of them.

He said pines have long limbs that give the wind more leverage. And if the ground is so saturated the roots can’t do their job, it will topple, he said.

“Even a small wind will push it over,” he said.

“Live oaks are our strongest, the most hurricane resistant,” he said. “In straight wind, they do pretty well, but if the ground is so wet the roots can’t hold, the structural integrity of the root system is weakened dramatically.”

People who live around the football stadium in Moss Point still talk about the huge Live oak on Beardslee Street that blew over years ago after a storm lingered for days and saturated the ground. The root system stood straight up out of the ground, leaving a crater.

Kahlmus pointed out that a single tree is more vulnerable than a group of trees in a yard that can hang together against the wind.

Also, he said, trees around construction sites, where drainage patterns have changed, are also vulnerable to weather events like this.

Hall has been watching the recent rain. And now with more rain projected, he is concerned about damage to large areas of city landscaping.

Are roots compromised?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Trees that are already suffering from a disease — this expedites their demise. They will die quicker and faster and fall over.

“The termites love it, because now the wood is softer and easier to eat,” Hall said. “It just means that next year, we’re going to have a really bad termite season.”

Flowers that are strategically planned around the city are drowning right now, he said.

“A lot of that stuff, even though it will be still alive, will get a bacteria from sitting in the water so long,” he said “Basically it is rotting.”

And there is nothing he can do right now.

He said, container gardeners are losing their gardens. If they didn’t plant in mulch, if they planted in soil, it’s not drying out. He suggested these gardeners pull the gardens under the carport or cover them for the coming days of rain.

“It’s a steady, constant rain, at a rate where there’s no time to run off,” he said. “The roots need to dry out.”

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