Stress Alert! Don’t Let Your Evergreens Turn into Nevergreens

As a homeowner, you probably pay a lot more attention to your lawn than you do your trees and shrubs. Usually, that’s okay. Because they have larger root systems, they aren’t as susceptible to drought…unless it’s long-term. Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve experienced here in the Kansas City area and we are starting to see signs of drought stress showing up in trees and shrubs – especially evergreens. 

Why Evergreens in KC Are Suffering from Drought

We’ve had several seasons in a row of dry winters and super hot summers. Normally, the evergreens can bounce back after a bad season or two, but there have been too many in a row and it’s starting to take its toll. Something to keep in mind is that trees like evergreens accumulate stress over time. The effects of drought are not always immediate and the full extent of the damage to trees can take one to two years to show up. The grass in your lawn is going to show an issue within days, whereas the stress your tree is showing now is from last winter and this summer. Unless you have been paying close attention, you’ve probably not been watering your evergreens, trees, or shrubs either at all, or often enough. 

Signs of Drought Stress in Evergreens, Trees, and Bushes

Short-Term Drought Symptoms

  • Leaf Wilt – Wilting and drooping of leaves will occur during the day. The wilt can be temporary and the leaves may recover by morning, or wilt can be permanent and the leaves will not revolver overnight.
  • Yellowing of Leaves – Drought stressed leaves will turn yellow before dropping off the plant. 
  • Leaf Scorch – Edges of the leaves will look dry and brown and curl as if they were burned. 
  • Leaf Loss – Trees will begin to lose their leaves from the top and from the branch ends. 
  • Cracks in the Bark – Certain trees, especially in thin-barked species like maples, might develop cracks in the bark.

Long-Term Drought Symptoms

  • Dead Branches –  Branch death will usually happen in the top or outer tips of trees.
  • Thinning Foliage – Trees will appear sparse and slightly yellow in color.
  • Small Leaves – Prolonged droughts can cause new leaves to be unusually small.
  • Increased Susceptibility to Pests – Ongoing drought conditions can make insect infestations, funguses, and diseases more likely to occur. 
  • Inability to Heal – Trees may become unable to close their wounds from pruning or damage.

Deep Root Fertilization Will Help Revive Evergreens, Trees, & Shrubs

If you see signs of drought stress, deep root fertilization and deep root watering can help the plants recover if it’s not too late:  

Deep Root Fertilization 

This type of fertilization is beneficial because it gives the plants the nutrients to help them recover. During times of drought, the fine hairs on the roots dry up and die first. Then, larger roots can start to atrophy as well. With deep-root fertilization, the nutrients are delivered deep in the ground, closer to the roots where they can be absorbed faster and by more of the remaining root system. 

Deep Root Watering

Deep root watering is something that homeowners can do on their own. Low and slow is the secret to this watering method. Using a garden hose, set it to a slow trickle and let it run for about 30 minutes around the tree. Depending on your soil, this will soak an area about 3-4’ wide and deep. Move your hose every 3-4’ around the tree or shrub to soak the full root zone. (A tree’s root zone is as wide as its drip line – or simply picture the tree upside down in the ground to get a rough mental picture). In Kansas City, it is good to do this each fall, especially for evergreens, and again in January or February during warmer spells when the soil isn’t frozen. Knowing that we’ve had a few trying seasons for our foliaged friends, you may want to put a reminder on your calendar to water your evergreens over the winter


Pay close attention to your trees and shrubs, and especially your evergreens. If you see signs of drought stress, give us a call and we can administer a deep root fertilization to help your valuable landscape plants recover. Call us at (913) 396-6858 or contact us online to learn more or schedule service.