The question was asked about the aspen tree pictured, standing around 10 yards from where the the owner and I were standing. What’s wrong with that aspen tree? Here is what I saw from that vantage point in the customer’s yard.
We were discussing another tree at that point so I made a note to check it. With an aspen it could be anything be it scale, aphids, drought, deer damage even SAD (sudden aspen decline). If there is a tree disease that gives away the truth, it’s SAD which is a fancy arborist way of saying, we have no clue.
While it appears more likely that SAD is primarily a drought die-off, it underlies the complexity of diagnosing aspen trees for disease. Whether to trim, maintain or remove an aspen is far from a clear cut decision.
After finishing up on another couple of questions I approached the aspen in question.
The presence of the wire fencing around the trunk of the tree indicated an effort to fend off deer from stripping and eating the bark. Evidence like that can make the diagnosis of an aspen easier. However when I got even closer it revealed a very clear cut reason for the aspen’s troubles, one any person, arborist or not, could diagnose.
Basically the bracing of the tree (that brown belt) had penetrated the trunk as the aspen grew and was girdling the tree. Girdling will constrict water or nutrients from moving throughout the trunk.
No wonder the aspen was dying from the top. This underscores to not leave the bracing on a young tree more then a season or two.
However, the moral of the story is while an arborist might throw out some fancy terms in our descriptions of a disease condition, not every tree care issue requires more then a cursory glance at your tree. Sometimes taking a common sense look at your trees and why they are struggling will reveal a simple fix. If the owners of this tree had done that a few years ago they possibly could have removed the cabling and the tree would be in good health.