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What are the zombie trees everybody’s talking about and what can be done about them?

Zombie trees are the freeze damaged trees, palms and shrubs on commercial and residential properties that are a result of the cold front that came through in early 2021. The damage caused by the freeze resulted in a lot of dead wood and sucker growth. The sucker growth is the trees attempt to come back from whatever living tissue was left. The trees will sucker back as a stress response, trying to replace that growth that was lost. This is not normal growth for a tree and these trees are never going to recover completely and thrive as a tree again. These trees are not going to have the original shape and growth. The freeze damage caused the stunted growth and stressed the trees that probably will result in permanent damage. The proper thing to do at this point is to remove the trees and replant as needed.

Many people still think there is a chance that the trees will return to its pre-damaged state. In addition to the sucker growth, there is a lot of dead wood from the frost/freeze damage that also needs to be removed. Can you manage it, trim it back? Yes. But it will never return to the tree’s original aesthetic which is why we are recommending is to remove the trees, shrubs or palms and start over.

We have seen this type of damage all over the Greater Houston area. The hardest hit species have included Japanese Blueberries, Bottlebrush, & Olive Trees but the damage wasn’t limited to more sensitive varieties. We have also seen Live Oaks, Pine Trees, Lacebark Elms and more affected by the freeze. As we have worked with commercial property managers to remove the damaged trees and replace them but many managers are going back with the same types of plant and tree material that was lost. This stems from the belief that the freeze event of 2021 was extenuating weather event and we won’t see temperatures like that again soon. Alterntively, some commercial property owners are taking notes from the plant material that wasn’t affected by the cold and going back with those trees. Crepe Myrtles are a good example of a tree that we’ve seen very little freeze damage on across the area.

One challenge in replacing all the trees, shrubs and palms lost is supply and demand. Because the damage was so widespread, there is a large demand for material that we haven’t seen before. That combined with the losses that the growers experienced too has created a problem in sourcing plant materials. We have had to get inventive and move outside of our normal circle of vendors to find the materials we need from other States and growers. For this reason, some property owners have opted to wait until early next year to do the replacements needed. If this is the case, it is still very important that you go ahead and remove these trees, shrubs and palms to prevent any damage. The major concern here is the liability issues of unhealthy or mostly dead trees on your property. Especially with hurricane season in full swing, removing potential hazards is the right thing to do to avoid any issues that storms could create.

The zombie tree apocalypse of 2021 is an event we will not soon forget. It has left a permanent impact on commercial landscaping in the Greater Houston area as a whole. As always, Embark Services is here to help you recover from an event of this sort as well as maintain your trees year round. Our certified arborists work hard to provide all the services need to maintain healthy trees, including trimming and pruning, cabling and bracing, deep root fertilization, root flare excavation, and stump grinding and tree replacement when needed.