In Defense of Trees: Be a Champion

Photo: Morton Arboreum, Lisle, Ill.
Photo: Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Ill.

Today while walking through my neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice that tree after tree is marked with orange ribbon.  This isn’t a celebration; each of these once-mighty trees is marked for destruction.

Unfortunately, they’re infested with the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle native to Asia that found its way to Michigan on a wooden pallet in 2002.  Since then, the pest has decimated tens of millions of ash trees, and it’s reach is spreading.  I am witness:  A native of Michigan who now lives in Chicago, I’ve watch the progression of dying trees along I-94 get closer and closer to the Windy City.  Now, trees are dying in my neighborhood.

In fact, one of every five parkway trees in Chicago will likely be destroyed by the emerald ash borer beetle (Urban Trees and Forests of the Chicago Region, August 2013). Other tree species throughout the U.S. are at risk from fungal diseases and pathogens like Sudden Oak Death to the pine beetle to the Asian longhorned beetle, which is aggressively working its way through the hardwood forests of Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Even more distressing?  Only 3 in 10 Chicagoans can name an endangered or threatened tree, while nearly 6 of 10 can name an endangered animal, found a new study by the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill.  I’m betting this holds true across the country.

Now Is The Time To Act
Stronger, healthier trees are better armed to fight infection and pests.  According to the arboretum, everyone can do his or her part to help urban trees thrive:

  • Water trees along the street.  Trees like long, slow drinks so leave the hose, barely dribbling, at the base of the tree for an hour or more. Or use a soaker hose.
  • Protect tree bark. A tree’s outer and inner bark guard against damage by weather, insects, animals, and organisms that can cause disease. Bark is damaged easily when struck by lawnmowers and string trimmers, so don’t get close to trees while doing these chores. Don’t chain bikes to trees or drill into them to hang swings.
  • Watch out for roots. In confined areas, some trees’ roots are forced to the surface of the soil. Avoid mowing over those roots; damaging them can cut off the flow of water and nutrients.
  • Mulch the right way. Mulch keeps roots cool in summer and prevents moisture from evaporating before the tree can use it. Spread mulch 3 to 4 inches deep in a wide, flat layer around the base of the tree. Don’t pile it against the trunk volcano-style; this contributes to rot and harbors insects and disease.
  • Make the right choice. Different species of trees need different growing conditions. Before you plant a sapling, make sure the mature tree will fit your space and that it will have the sun, shade and soil it needs to thrive.
  • Talk to the experts. For more ways to help trees thrive and help in choosing the right tree for your space, talk the to experts like those at the Morton Arboretum.

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In Defense of Trees: Be a Champion

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