Category Archives: Landscape Problems

Blue Spruce Problems

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is one of the most recognizable and widely planted conifers in Michigan landscape.   Unfortunately, blue spruces have been encountering some seriously health-threatening problems in recent years.   Most of the problems are from disease are killing branches and eventually the entire tree.  Industry experts are calling this “Spruce Decline”.   This epidemic has caused many to believe that the blue spruce will become extinct. 

There are a variety of factors that may contribute to Spruce Decline.  It is believed that there are two reasons for this problem.  First, we have overplanted blue spruce, just as we do with most popular plants.  Do you remember the Dutch Elm Disease and the very recent Emerald Ash Borer?  Overplanting often leads to buildup disease and pests with so much food and survival potential for these causal factors.  Second, we have taken a tree that is “native” to the slopes (well drained, perhaps even droughty, nutrient poor) of the Rocky Mountains to clayish, poorly drained soils of Michigan.  Other species of spruce (Norway, white, black, Serbian, etc.) may contract some of these problems as well…even though they are generally not nearly as seriously affected as blue spruce.   Here at Thoms Bros. we are not recommending to plant Colorado Spruce, but use Norway and other Spruces more than not. 

The biggest problem of this “Decline” are the Canker Diseases.  Caused by fungi, the most common are Phomopsis, Cytospora and Diplodia.  But other issues include Needlecast Disease, Pitch Mass Borer, Cooley Spruce Gall and Cultural/Environmental Problems. 

Managing these issues is very complex.  The biggest solution is to not overplant and when planting to allow adequate spacing to allow air movement.  Using several varieties of spruce , pine, and fir on a jobsite would protect you from a larger problem.  Pesticides can definitely be used to control the disease and pest problems, but the key to solution is recognizing the problem early enough.  Many clients come to us after the plants have declined to much and are beyond salvageable.  If you have Blue Spruces on your property, have our Arborculturist (from our key partner, GreenTrees) put you on a program.

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Crazy Weather and Our Plants

So how much small talk have your heard in the last several months that included?: “Long Winter”, “Crazy Weather”, “Cannot wait until spring”, You Think Winter is Finally Done?”, etc.  Here at Thoms Bros. we officially started our season on April 7, a week later than usual.  In the last two weeks we have seen temperatures into the 70’s and on tax day 2014, we officially did it!  We broke a 150 year record for snowfall in a season.

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So April 15 was another day our crews could not work in the field.  Whether it is snow or rain, we assume we will not be able to work six days a week in April.  That just goes with the territory.  But it just proves the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan than just wait a minute.”  With Tuesday’s high of 32F we are now expecting seasonable temps for the weekend and above normal temps for early next week.

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What will this past winter and the crazy weather do to our plants?  With some plants the damage is quite obvious right now.

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Winter burn can be seen on many types of boxwood.  These boxwoods were especially susceptible since they were out in the open and had road salt sprayed on them.  Also, some boxwood are hardier than others.

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Winter damage can also be noticed on other evergreens throughout the landscape including yews/taxus.

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This is Cephalotaxus harringtonia fastigiata.  It is rated for zones 6 through 9.  Even though we are in zone 6 on average, this past winter was at least a zone 5 for us.  I would not normally plant zone 6 plants, but I received two free from the APLD Conference.  You can see the bottom is still green and the top was green like this at the end of February.  We started losing some of our snow cover in March and the top got exposed resulting in the yellowing.  We will see how it recovers.

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Obviously evergreen damage is quite visible this early in the spring, but how about our deciduous plants and perennials.  This Carpet Rose in a grouping of 8 has very little green in the stems.  I would assume you will never notice the winter damage in later summer, but cutting back the brown stems right to the ground will need to be done here very soon.  Usually most stems in roses will stay green throughout the winter, but this was not a “usual” winter.

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On April 12, many locations in Metro Detroit received heavy hail.  Hail will not usually do any damage to plants.

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The next day on April 13, a storm that produced shear winds went through the area.  Many large, older evergreens can be seen on their sides. 

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This 200+ year old oak had severe heartwood rot and the cambium (outer, growing part of the trunk) was the only thing keeping this majestic tree upright.

Now that we are FINALLY done with winter (I think), let’s hope most of our plants recover and we can enjoy a beautiful spring and summer.

What’s Wrong with My Spruce Trees?

For about 10 years, spruce trees have had a tough time in Michigan due to pest, diseases, over-planting and weather.  Diseases with spruce are nothing new.  Cytospora Canker is manifested by the dying of the lower branches accompanied by dropping of the needles.  The disease is very destructive on the blue spruce.  But a recent survey in southern Michigan by Dr. Dennis Fullbright (MSU Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Science) has discovered that this disease is not as prevalent as in the past.  A new disease, Phomopsis Blight, has shown its ugly head on one of Southeast Michigan’s favorite conifer (i.e. Christmas tree or evergreen tree).  This disease as described in an article in the magazine The Michigan Landscape works much faster than the Cytospora Canker.

So what can we do to stop or prevent this disease?  The future does not look very bright for infected plants.  Fungicide and pruning can help, but dead branches will not grow again.  If you do not catch the disease soon enough, much of the lower branches of the plant will be gone.  Bad news if the plant is used for privacy.  A fungicide, Cleary 3336, can be used to prevent the disease.  But this needs to be applied several times while the shoots of the plant are growing the spring.  This could be a very expensive endeavor.

As with the Elm Dutch Disease epidemic in Detroit in the 50’s and most recently the Emerald Ash Borer, diversification is key to slowing down insect and disease issues in our landscape.  Colorado Blue Spruces have been planted heavy in the last 30 or so years.  They are loved for their color, availability in the market and tolerant of our heavy soils here in Southeast Michigan.  We should consider using and actually make it a point to plant other types of conifers.  Please check out this extension handout by MSU.  As a landscape contractor and designer, I will do my best in educating my clients on other choices.

This tree Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens) is in a row with four other Colorado’s and one Norway Spruce.  The plant declined extremely rapidly this year and before I knew it lost a big gap of needles in the lower third of the plant.  I have been treating all of the plants with herbicides and will deep root fertilize them this Fall, but will eventually replace at least this plant with another species of conifer.  These trees provide privacy for my backyard and block road noise from the entrance of the subdivision.