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Tattered tree leaves

By late summer the leaves on most trees look like they’ve seen better days, but for the most part, that’s okay
Photo courtesy of Iowa State University

The leaves on the linden tree in my back yard are looking pretty chewed up. They’re shredded and have lots of holes in them. This is normal for that tree, but some people become alarmed by what can look like severe damage.

Kelly Feehan is an Extension horticulture educator at the University of Nebraska. She says you’d be ragged too if you stood outside all summer long. But she says leaves become tattered due to a variety of reasons.

"There can be just some high-windy days that cause wind tear. In many cases they have been chewed on by a number of insects," says Feehan. "In most cases the insects are not considered a pest of the tree, they’re just incidental insects that have been doing some minor feeding throughout the summer."

Trees have a lot of leaf surface, so heavy insect feeding by the end of the summer is not that harmful to the tree. Feehan says to look up into the tree and if there’s a lot of green leafy tissue, photosynthesis is still occurring and the leaves are doing what they need to do.

So don’t bother with the insecticides this time of year.

"Those leaves have done their job for the tree for the summer, and it’s not going to be too long before a frost is going to kill those leaves and they’re just naturally going to drop off anyway," she says. "So it really makes no sense to apply an insecticide to a tree to reduce damage to a leaf that’s soon going to be dead and gone anyway."

Some people think if they spray an insecticide on their trees now they won’t have any issues in the spring. Feehan says that’s not the case. By over applying or using pesticides when they’re not effective, pests can develop resistance to the chemical.

Learn more about why your tree leaves look so worn out

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