Thanks to technology, arborists are better equipped and more informed than in the past. But with the impact of a changing climate, they are facing more challenges than ever before. Several factors expected to negatively impact tree health include extremes in temperatures, intensity of wind and ice storms, effects from fire, and site and soil issues.
As mean temperatures increase, heat combined with air pollution will lead to greater stress for trees. Plants will experience elevated levels of carbon dioxide, temperature fluctuations, problems with ozone, and less availability of nitrogen and water. More severe droughts and more intense storms, including catastrophic hurricanes, are anticipated.
We are already witnessing an unprecedented species migration as the native range of trees in our forests changes. To mitigate these shifts and to plan for healthy forests in the future, an ever-changing body of knowledge about tree health and ecological intervention is required. New trees should be “climate ready,” tested species that can survive the climate of the future. Horticulturists are working to breed cultivars that are more resistant to disease, drought, and insects, and new types of grow bags have been developed that enable many more roots to survive during shipping and transplanting.
Technology also provides arborists with new tools to address the problems inherent in climate change. For example, ground penetrating radar can be utilized to diagnose root system disorders. Using high sonic tomography tools, we can now visually explore the cavities of trees, revealing defects much as would a doctor identify disease in a human being.
New approaches in horticulture are not limited to rural locations. Cities of all sizes are going green. In many areas, “smart” designs for construction projects are becoming the norm. Arborists are working with engineers to preserve existing urban green space. Green roofs, complete with solar panels and designated gardens, are being developed on top of buildings. They may incorporate both sustainable energy and small-scale farming. Earth-friendly engineering is appearing everywhere, town and country. Gutters are being replaced with rain gardens and collection pools, with cleansing systems that facilitate water conservation and reuse.
With a changing climate and the horticultural challenges it presents, new technology can, and must, lead to new solutions.