Cottonwood Tree: Excessive leafy twig drop

Asked July 24, 2013, 3:08 PM EDT

My mature cottonwood tree has been dropping a large number of leafy branch ends for the past 3-4 weeks, significantly more droppings than in any previous year. The tree is approximately 30 years old and appears to be very healthy. It is watered twice per week on our property; extensive roots reach additional water sources. Daily, it drops as many as 100 leafy branch ends. Most of the droppings are 6" to a foot long with healthy leaves. Some of the droppings' ends appear to have broken off cleanly; others are cracked and split.
Is this increase in tree droppings an indication of a problem with the tree?
Additional Info:
* The tree was professionally pruned 5 years ago.
* In late October 2011, 18 large branches snapped from the tree during a sudden-temperature-drop snowstorm.
* The tree oozes from it's base (photo attached). We have observed this oozing for over 20 years.

Adams County Colorado

3 Responses

Cottonwoods, as you indicate in your question, are indeed “messy” trees. The often drop small (or not so small) branches. The increase you are seeing could be related to several things. The easy answer and first thing to consider is squirrel damage. Squirrels can gnaw on a tree’s small branches (eating the bark) which weakens them and causes them to break off. If you are not observing any squirrels in the tree please give me a call and we will try and sort out what is happening over the phone. The oozing you are seeing is likely bacterial wet wood. Here is a fact sheet on the issue: this helps. If you have any other questions please let me know

Hi Eric,
You are absolutely right. The problem is squirrels. We have 3 or 4 squirrel nests in this cottonwood tree! So, the next question is either:
> How do we encourage squirrels to go away? or
> How do we find someone to remove them?

There are a few things you can do to discourage squirrels, but it is really a tuff issue. Trying to eliminate their primary food source is sometimes effective. In an urban setting this normally means making sure you and\or your neighbor’s trash cans are secure and eliminating things like birdfeeders. You can also place a “collar” on the tree to prevent them from climbing up- this will only be affective if there are no nearby trees or building to provide access to the tree through the air. Here is a fact sheet with more information: this helps,