Monday, April 21, 2014

The Naked Truth: Trees

Happy Spring! It’s been a month since the spring equinox and it’s finally starting to warm up and, more importantly, green up. Crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils (and early-season weeds) are blooming and the pussy willow is in full flower.

Tree buds are fully swollen and many of the maples are in bloom. While we’re waiting for trees to leaf out, this is the perfect time to examine trees “in the buff.” We can check for damage to limbs and branches that will become hidden once the leaves cover the tree.

Here are two examples of common twig problems from a recent walk:


The balls decorating the twigs of this mature oak tree are galls caused by a variety of parasitic wasps. There are a number of types of galls, caused by an even greater number of species of tiny wasps. The two most common twigs galls in our area are horned oak galls and gouty oak galls.

Galls are tumor-like structures and they’re formed of tree tissue. Tiny, non-stinging wasps induce the tree to form galls which act as protection for the wasp eggs and developing larvae. While they may not be aesthetically pleasing, they usually aren’t harmful to healthy, well-established trees. The galls can be pruned out of the tree, though that quickly becomes impractical as the tree grows. The general recommendation for oaks infested with galls is to maintain good tree health through watering during dry periods, fertilizing when necessary, and responding quickly to other insect or pathogen problems.


This picture shows the crown of a majestic sycamore tree. The arrows indicate portions of branches where a proliferation of slender, closely-spaced twigs arise. These bunches of twigs are known as witch's brooms. They are caused by a fungal disease known as anthracnose. Anthracnose is a very common disease and can affect a wide variety of plants, though it doesn’t always cause witch's broom in other hosts. In sycamores, anthracnose can also cause lesions on leaves and cankers on branches.

The twigs in witch's brooms tend to be thin and poorly-spaced; as a result, they don’t leaf out well and tend to break easily. Much like the oak galls, witch's brooms usually won’t cause too much injury to a healthy, mature tree. Management includes sanitation, or the removal of infected plant tissue (in this case, raking and bagging or mowing leaves and twigs affected with anthracnose), and maintaining good tree health.


This is also a good time to look for limbs damaged by wind or ice over the winter. Dead or damaged limbs, branches that are crossing and rubbing against another branch or the trunk, or ones that attach to the tree at a small angle, need to be pruned out of the tree to ensure good tree health. Make sure to prune correctly, leaving the collar around the branch intact to allow for proper wound healing. 

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