Unusual disease outbreak in ash trees

Lots of local news coverage on the impending invasion of the emerald ash borer has many owners of ash trees alert for any unusual symptoms. So I was not surprised by the number of recent calls I’ve been getting about blighted ash leaves. Leaf drop in mid May is a common phenomenon, especially when it’s rainy when the leaves are just expanding. The culprit usually is a leaf disease called ash anthracnose which, while the symptoms can be alarming, it’s generally temporary and pretty harmless. But when I got two different calls yesterday-on Memorial Day- in which both clients used the word “orange’ in describing the symptoms- I realized something unusual was going on. Here’s what I found at a client’s property in Pottstown:

ash

ash rust2

ash rust

The disease is ash rust, Puccinia sparganioides. Spores from the disease on ash cannot infect another ash. They can only infect an alternate host, which is cordgrass which grows in salt marshes. Ash rust is common near salt marshes. But we are quite a distance from the nearest cordgrass marsh, making this a rather unusual event.

The Cuddy Park Environmental Restoration Project

An exciting opportunity presented itself to me through my membership on the Lower Frederick Township park board. In 2011 the board had been discussing uses for the one of the areas of vacant land that had been acquired using Montgomery County Open space funding.  “Cuddy Park” was an old farm field that had been out of production for about 20 years and grew into a young forest of eastern red cedar and a mixture of invasive shrubs. There was little diversity of species such as in normal hardwood forest regeneration due to the extremely high deer population in the area. Acquired by the township in 1997, the only improvements to date had been construction of a small parking lot and partial completion of a gravel path.

Cuddy Park map

Cuddy Park Plot Plan

Google map Cuddy Park 4-11-2010

Cuddy Park Aerial View 2010

Since the township supervisors had no immediate plans to spend money on any improvements for active use, I suggested turning a portion of it into a wildflower meadow. The idea was well received, however the supervisors were still in no rush to approve spending. Then, near the end of the year, our township manager, Tamara,  showed me an application for grant funding from the Southeast PA Tree Vitalize Watersheds program and asked me if I’d be interested in doing the work necessary to put in a grant proposal.

I jumped at the opportunity, thinking it could be the ticket for funding the meadow! I studied the application and learned that the goal of Tree Vitalize Watersheds is to fund tree planting on stream corridors and the land that impacts them. The grants cover the cost of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants and some of the expenses of planting them, as long as 80% of the cost is for trees. All plant species must be native to Pennsylvania. Having been advised that the program prioritizes planting large numbers of trees, I put together a plan that included many small trees, as well as 2 acres of native grass and wildflower  meadow, all protected by seven foot tall deer exclusion fencing.

Cuddy Park Grant Proposal

Project Bid

Project Description

Project Description for Grant Proposal

Tree Vitalize Watershed Grant Program

Tree Vitalize Watershed Grant Program

The proposal was turned in to the Montgomery County Conservation district –the grant administrator- just in time for the December deadline, and to my delight it was approved! The others on the park board as well as our Lower Frederick Birdtown group were enthusiastic about implementing the project and decided to schedule organizational meetings to figure out how to get the work done. The grant was to cover up to 75% of the costs of the project, with a minimum of 25% to be borne by the grantee. Fortunately, any work done using volunteer or staff time could be applied to the match requirements!  Since we intended to do much of the work using volunteer help, and my donated  professional services could also be applied to the match, the end cost to the township would be minimal. The supervisors liked that part! And with my promise to see the project through to completion, they all agreed to sign  approval for it.

Then it was time to plan a timetable for the work. We scheduled several workdays in the early spring to work with anyone who would volunteer their help for clearing away the invasive shrubs and cedar trees at the proposed meadow site. I already had lots of ideas of what to plant in the meadow. Because I’m a butterfly enthusiast, I wanted to include a lot of butterfly larval host plants in the seed mix.

Since I had never actually attempted a project like this before,  I signed up for a course at Morris Arboretum on native wildflower meadows. Good thing I did! I  found out  that the instructor, Larry Weaner, is considered the guru of meadow design and planting. What a great education,  I had no idea of the number of potential mistakes there were to make! Larry referred me to Brian O’Niell of Weeds Inc. who has a specially modified Truax  no-till seed drill that is capable of planting all the varied types of seed at once. Brian advised me on the best sources of seed, and I designed a customized mixture that I thought  would work well.

We scheduled to have Brian do the planting work in late May, and then we had our work cut out for us to get the site ready.

Supervisor Bob Yoder agreed to put out a call for volunteers from the community and he got an excellent response. So, on a sunny Saturday , a crew of enthusiastic workers dragged brush to my chipper, which ran constantly. They cleaned up as fast as my Jacobs Tree Surgery crew could cut. The majority of the two acre clearing job was knocked out in one day!

After finishing up the clearing job, I sprayed the remaining low vegetation with Aquaneat herbicide. When the weeds were all dead, the township crew mowed it all down. Then, a few weeks later when new weed seedlings began to emerge, I sprayed again. The field was then ready for seeding.

Herbicide application after brush has been cleared

Herbicide application after brush has been cleared

On a Saturday morning in early June, Brian O’Niell came out to the park with his Truax seed drill and planted the wildflowers and grasses.

Planting meadow with Truax seed drill 1

Planting meadow with Truax seed drill

Planting meadow with Truax seed drill  2

Planting meadow with Truax seed drill

Flowers list

List of Meadow Plant Species, Seeds

The next step was to erect the deer fencing before the newly emerging plants were vulnerable. Instead of volunteers, this time the township road crew pitched in and did the job. In addition  to the two acre meadow area, they fenced the adjacent piece of ground where the young trees  would be going.

Plants beginning to emege late in summer

Plants beginning to emerge late in summer

Fence installation

Fence installation

Then it was time to choose the tree and shrub species and get them ordered  in time for fall planting. Again I wanted a diverse mix of native species,  especially those that would  provide food and habitat for wildlife. The majority of the trees- 990 of them- were mail ordered  as bare root seedlings. Another 214  were purchased locally from American Native Nursery in Quakertown, along with 200 perennial native  wildflower plants in gallon containers or plugs. The rest – 74 trees up to about 2 inch caliper and 55 large container grown blueberries- I bought at the auction of a local nursery that was going out of business.

The larger trees

The larger trees

Cuddy trees

List of Trees and Plants

The most labor intensive part of the whole project was getting all 1300-plus plants installed by the December 7 deadline.  In November we held two Saturday workdays  and had the help of a large number of community volunteers, including  an entire Environmental Science class from Ursinus

College, and a local boy scout troop.  In addition, the township crew worked for several days with a work –release crew from Montgomery County prison.  With some last minute work by the Jacobs Tree Surgery  crew we got it done on time. All the grant requirements were fulfilled and the township was reimbursed for the amount of the grant agreement.

Community tree planting effort

Community tree planting effort

Maintenance Plan

Maintenance Plan

POSTSCRIPT  We were very fortunate that  the spring weather of 2013 was rainy. A high percentage of the bareroot plant material survived, and the meadow plants also established  extremely well. The wildflowers provided a remarkable display throughout the whole 2013 growing season, and in turn attracted a great number of butterflies including some uncommon species.

July 19

The meadow in 2013

July 26 (2)  June 3 June 4 June 29 (2) June 29 Sept 11 Milbert's Tortoiseshell! Sept 11 Sept 15 Sept 18 (2) Sept 18

For more photos of Cuddy Park, follow these Facebook links:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374048515974997.80720.130122553700929&type=1&stream_ref=10

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.511487068897807.1073741826.130122553700929&type=3

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.597701323609714.1073741868.130122553700929&type=3

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.595516980494815.1073741867.130122553700929&type=3

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.563329470380233.1073741862.130122553700929&type=3

Scarlet oak sawfly

These pin oaks are shedding leaves, and large parts of some of them have leaves that look white from the ground.  The culprit is scarlet oak sawfly larvae.

I have never seen damage quite like this from this insect.  It’s unusual for it to reach such a high population that it defoliates the tree like this, and there ARE natural predators that usually keep it in check.  But in this case it could impact the tree’s health, so control would be justified.  Control, by whatever method, would need to be done soon.  Otherwise the larvae will pupate, and later in the year the adult wasps will emerge and lay eggs and there will be another generation!

Plea for help judging the JTS Photo Contest

I really need help judging the Jacobs Tree Surgery Photo Contest. Somebody’s going to win a nice prize, and I want the winner to be determined in a more democratic way than just relying on the opinionated perspective of me and my Jacobs Tree Surgery associates.   Note in the paragraph below the suggested judging criteria, follow the link to see the entries and vote for your favorite. Thanks in advance. Results will be posted Tuesday June 26.

Topic: Most Ridiculous Mulch Volcano

About the Contest: The idea here is to raise the level of public tree awareness. I picked the volcano topic because it’s the biggest, nastiest tree problem out there. Mulch volcanoes are a bigger threat to the trees of suburbia than any insect, even the dreaded emerald ash borer! All are welcome to enter, whether you are an ordinary citizen with just the slightest interest in trees, or a green industry professional. You don’t need to be a skilled photographer either. We’re going to judge these photos on lots of different criteria. Photographic composition might be one of them. “Artiness.” But also anything that makes the photo interesting. Maybe the perps caught in the act. Maybe the root injuries or girdling roots depicted. Maybe something about the location, that it’s somewhere that you’d think they’d know better. Maybe just the sheer outrageousness of the volcanic mass. Some little detail that makes it humorous. Be creative… If you are a serious gardener or plant person, you know about the mulch volcano problem. If you don’t know, Google it. And marvel at the number of hits! And then read the articles I’ve posted on my website.
To see the entries I received, and submit your vote, click here:http://jacobstreesurgery.wordpress.com/photo-contest/
The deadline to vote is Tuesday June 26, 2012.

Imported Willow Leaf Beetle June 12 2012

This weeping willow in Harleysville has adult imported willow leaf beetles feeding on its leaves. They won’t cause much damage. But the population of beetles is rather high, and they will soon lay eggs. When the larvae of the next generation emerge from the eggs, they will feed on the leaves in a skeletonizing pattern, and there will be enough of them to defoliate the tree. The client is aware, and he will probably spray them.

Emerald Ash Borer Scouting

The way this client found me is a little bit strange.  He found my website by googling “bacterial leaf scorch” (I have articles posted about my experiences with BLS).  That’s what another “arborist” told him was wrong with his ash tree.  And that the disease would kill the tree, so he should remove it.  Well, ash trees have a few problems around here of late, but bacterial leaf scorch isn’t one of them.  Anyway, the tree didn’t look good and we talked about the true ash ailments – ash anthracnose (which the tree did have) and emerald ash borer (which hasn’t been found close to here yet).  In the end, he agreed we should inspect the tree for EAB, just to be sure.

Today, Ricky and Dave climbed the tree, and the one next to it, and checked it thoroughly.  Good news – negative for EAB.

The ailing ash

The ailing ash

Holes in leaves

Holes in leaves: from the ground you can’t see them in detail, can’t tell if it’s insect feeding damage; close up it doesn’t look like it. More likely caused by damage to buds from our late frost

We look for any clue - here you can see the wood pile contains ash firewood

We look for any clue – here you can see the wood pile contains ash firewood

hackberry emporer butterfly

While we were getting started, this hackberry emperor butterfly came by and took a liking to the minerals on Dave’s hardhat strap.  (Click the image to see a nice big version!)

Dave and Ricky

Dave and Ricky each went up a tree

a good, closeup inspection of the crown

…and did a good, closeup inspection of the crown.

If you have ash trees and are concerned about emerald ash borer now that it has been discovered in Bucks County, right now is the best time to have them checked.  This is the peak time for emergence of the adult insect.