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The Mysterious Ash Illness

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

The Case of The Mysterious Ash Illness

By Certified Arborist Bob Gluck WI-0116A

The day started out well and very typical for a spring day, in Wisconsin. The weather was nice, snow was melting and the buds on the trees were expanding.  Some trees even had small leaves and some had flowers already. The phone was ringing with requests for estimates and home owners looking for information on how to take care of the trees in their yards. One particular call caught my attention. The homeowner said that her ash tree in the front yard was not leafing out and it must have Emerald Ash Borer. I began to ask some questions, like how long has the tree been planted, maybe it was under transplant shock? Mrs. Homeowners reply was that the tree was planted 10 years ago. I also asked if the tree was growing well and the response was that it was growing great, but that it had Emerald Ash borer and must be treated that day or it was going to  die. Mrs. Homeowner informed me that the other trees in the neighborhood were all leafing out, and that hers had hardly started. I decided that I should go to her home and have a look to figure this case out.

I pulled up to the address that I was given, but did not see an Ash tree in the front yard. I did see a Norway maple in the front yard that wasn’t leafing out, but no ash. I figured I should ring the bell and find out where the ash tree is. Mrs. Homeowner answered, I introduced myself and asked where the sickly ash tree was. She actually seamed upset that I walked to the front door and

 couldn’t see the sickly ash. She told me that it is right there next to the sidewalk and wondered why I couldn’t see the ash tree that was not leafing out! First I explained that it is a Maple tree, not an Ash! She said that she didn’t think Maples could get the Emerald Ash Borer. My reply was that Maples don’t get the Emerald Ash Borer and that there must be something else going on with the health of the Maple. Mrs. Homeowner was so upset that she asked to see my credentials. She was told by the nursery it was an Ash. The nursery also told her, that it would get a real nice purple color in the fall. I told her that Norway Maples don’t get a purple fall color. She said, “Well maybe that is why it doesn’t get the nice purple color that the nursery told me it would get.”

It was very evident that something was wrong because the tree was just starting to leaf out, and others in the neighborhood were already leafed out. I began to do some investigating and asked Mrs. Homeowner if she was home when the tree was planted? She told me that she was and that two young college students planted it that worked for this very reputable nursery. I looked at the area of the trunk where the trunk meets the soil. The trunk was going straight into the ground like a telephone pole, with no “root flare” at all. I told her that I needed to go back to my car and get a shovel. I might be on to something. Mrs. Homeowner all of a sudden became angry with me and said, “What kind of tree doctor are you? The leaves are sickly not the trunk.”

Once I started to dig I found that the shipping basket was still on and some roots were wrapped around the trunk. It was obvious to me that the roots were trying to get to the correct depth and were growing around the trunk in the loosened planting soil. I told her that I needed to do some root surgery, as the roots are choking the tree not allowing water and nutrients to the top of the plant. Mrs. Homeowner said that she questioned planting the tree with the wire on it but the nursery people told her it would rot away.

I got my tools and prepared to do root surgery. After nearly 3 hours on site I gave the Maple new life, by removing the top half of the shipping basket and pruning the roots that were wrapping around the trunk. I recommended following up with fall maintenance feeding to help the tree recover from the surgery.

I thanked Mrs. Homeowner for calling us and said I was very happy to give her tree a new lease in life.  

I’ve checked on the tree years after and found it to be growing and in great health.

Spring is a great time to be planting trees. Make sure that shipping baskets are removed, and that trees are planted with the “root flare” on top of the soil. Also make sure that the tree is mulched and watered. Ultimately try to mimic Mother Nature and the way she plants trees, in the woods.  

Make sure to check the credentials of the nursery you are buying your stock from and call a certified arborist if you have any questions.

- Originally Posted 14 Mar 2018

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