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THE PRAIRIE GARDENER: Dutch elm disease has claimed millions of trees

Seventy-five years ago, Dutch elm disease arrived on these shores from Europe with devastating impact. Moving from the East Coast to the nation's mid-section, the disease since has claimed millions of American elm trees.

Seventy-five years ago, Dutch elm disease arrived on these shores from Europe with devastating impact. Moving from the East Coast to the nation's mid-section, the disease since has claimed millions of American elm trees.

In East Grand Forks and surrounding communities, the towering elm is becoming a memory. In Grand Forks, action by the city forestry crews has spared many elms. Disease-resistant elms also are available as replacement trees.

This wasn't the first time the introduction of a tree disease has made such an impact. In the 1930s, a fungal blight from Europe decimated the stately American chestnut. Except for a few scattered pockets, the chestnut is extinct.

New challenges

Now there is another pest - the emerald ash borer. It attacks green, black and white ash species, which ironically were planted to replace diseased American elms. Now, these ash species may soon join the elm as a memory.


The story begins in July 2002 when the ash borer, a native of Asia, was first found in ash trees near Detroit. That beetle, which feeds on ash trees and uses them as shelter, has killed more than 5 million trees and has spread into Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and the province of Ontario.

Wisconsin is attempting to confine the disease along its eastern border by removing ash trees so the borers can't cross this barrier. Besides migration, the borers are also spread in firewood. If Wisconsin's effort is not successful, the disease could strike Minnesota within a decade.

There are other threats including the mountain pine beetle found in the Rocky Mountain states, sudden oak death in California and the Asian bug attack on eastern hemlock.

Tree tipsIn wake of the Dutch elm invasion and potential ash tree woes, foresters have urged homeowners to plant a variety of trees, not a single species as we did with ash trees. The mix should include both deciduous and evergreen trees, which are considered hardy for our harsh climate.

One tree that works well in spring, summer, fall or winter is the larch, which most of us know as the tamarack. Found in northern Minnesota swamps, this pyramid-shaped larch puts on a show for every season. The tamaracks have a golden color this time of year, similar to the quaking aspen. The needles will soon fall, leaving a silhouette against the winter snow.

Other varietiesBesides the American larch, there also are Japanese and European counterparts. Dwarf varieties are available along with weeping and creeping varieties. Check locally for the native tamarack; other varieties may be more difficult to find. Larches prefer a sunny spot with moist, well-draining loam soil if possible.

Tree pointersField mice, voles and rabbits all take a toll of newly planted fruit and shade trees every winter. To fend off these pests, use tree wrap, which you extend from below the soil line to above the typical snow line. You also can place mesh fencing around the base of the tree as well as remove any dried grass or weeds.

With deer population skyrocketing, there could be widespread damage to newly planted fruit and shade trees as well as shelterbelt plantings. One product is "Plantskydd," which can be applied as a spray now. Contact the National Resources Conservation Service (former Soil Conservation Service) at 4775 Technology Circle. An application lasts six months.


East side tidits

-- David Hanson of Sage Herb Gardens, Winnipeg, will speak at 10 a.m. Nov. 18 at Campbell Library at 422 Fourth St. N.W., East Grand Forks. The session is sponsored by the Grand Forks Horticulture Society; it's free and open to the public.

-- East Side parochial school students have volunteered to rake and bag leaves for residents who needed assistance. For the 22nd year, Sacred Heart School students in East Grand Forks sponsored a "Rake-A-Thon." Preschool and kindergarten students picked up litter while students in Grade 3 and up, along with others, raked and bagged leaves. This year, Riverside Christian School students in three elementary grades, joined by teachers, also performed this valuable service.

-- The Don Floan Memorial Garden, located on the grounds of the Floan-Sanders office in East Grand Forks, was dedicated recently. Floan, who was a civic and business leader for many years, died last spring. It's a fitting tribute to a great man.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks, ND 58206-6008.

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