Our spring was unusually cool and moist. Consequently, it was a bad year for diseases on certain kinds of trees like cherries, flowering plums, dogwoods and other deciduous tree species.
Diagnosing a sick tree
Before any treatment can be considered, the problem must be accurately identified. If you inquire at a Master Gardener clinic or with some type of professional, be prepared to answer several questions.
First, what kind of a tree is it? Are the leaves damaged? If so, what do they look like? When did you first notice the problem? Do you see any tiny insects on the leaves? Have you sprayed a weed killer around the tree? Has there been any construction or landscaping activity near the roots? Is the problem occurring on one tree or several similar trees in the yard?
If possible, bring a branch to a clinic that has both healthy and diseased tissue or leaves on it. Or you can contact a professional and request a visit to your yard to observe the problem.
Should I spray?
The answer may be “no” if one prefers not to use chemicals. However, a high tolerance level may be necessary to live with a few leaves with holes in them or that are all crinkled up and have turned brown. Personally, I choose to live with many of the pests. Except those darn weeds!
If the problem has created a real eyesore or appears to be causing serious damage to a tree or shrub, then a treatment can be considered. However, selecting the right pesticide and timing is very important. A problem can be identified and a treatment be selected, but if the best time for spraying has passed, a treatment will be wasted.
For example, many insects and leaf diseases start their rampages in the spring just as new growth is emerging. Therefore, spraying for most of these kinds of problems during the summer will not work. But if the problem is anticipated again next spring, then plans should be made to apply a treatment at that time.
Read labels carefully to be certain that a pest is listed and to determine the proper timing. In other words do not spray a bug killer for a disease in the middle of winter!
Trees and neighbors
Sometimes a neighbor fears a sick tree because it may infect his tree or fall onto his house. How should such a situation be addressed if the tree belongs to you?
First, attempt to maintain a friendly, reasonable and cool-headed relationship. Too many tree disputes arise when attitudes get in the way of levelheaded discussions that could result in amicable solutions.
Second, try to figure out options that would address the concerns. First, is the tree safe? A hazard evaluation by a certified professional may give it a clean bill of health or determine that a risk should be addressed. If it is diseased, proper identification may indicate that the problem will not spread to his tree.
Third, if possible, both parties should reverse roles and ask themselves how they would react to the other’s concerns. Is everyone being as reasonable as possible?
Fourth, figure out a compromise solution. Will some type of pruning or spraying help alleviate the problem? Or would the neighbor agree to help with the costs of removing the tree and planting new vegetation?
Unfortunately, too many disputes start on an adversarial note. Attorneys sometimes become involved, particularly if one party has taken unwise action and cut or damaged a neighbor’s tree without permission.
So, be cool and strive hard to arrive at a practical solution. It is much nicer to visit with a neighbor over the back fence rather than across a table in an attorney’s office or courtroom.
Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree risk assessor, Master Gardener and urban forester from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazardous tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses. Contact him at 253-863-7469 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.evergreenarborist.com.