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Fungal Activity Among Shade Trees

sycamore anthracnose, Apiognomonia veneta  (Diaporthales: Valsaceae)
Record rain fall in our area this spring was a bit different from the drought conditions in the past.  Most plants have benefited from this rainfall and are thriving as a result.  However, it has also created many different issues that are causing stress in the landscape.  The wet, cool weather created a perfect habitat for many fungal organisms.  The number one fungal disease that we have seen in the landscape this season is Anthracnose.  The hardest hit tree species are typically shade trees, such as Maple, Ash, and Sycamore.  But also hard hit this year have been Tulip Poplar trees. The Anthracnose fungus forms on young leaves in early spring.  It starts off as little, irregular, brown spots which grow together, creating larger blotches.  These large blotches cause the leaf to become deformed, reducing its ability to photosynthesize.  As a result, the tree drops this foliage, leaving it looking thin and a bit defoliated. 

Anthracnose is the name of a group of fungi.  Different types of Anthracnose fungi attack different species of trees.  They each have similar life cycles, but require slightly different moisture and temperature conditions to become active.  Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done once a tree is heavily infected with Anthracnose.  Foliar sprays can kill the active fungus but the damaged leaves will remain on the tree until they fall.  Proper sanitation techniques, like removing infected leaves from the property and removing dead limbs from within the canopies, will help reduce the potential of re-infection the following year, but Mother Nature always has the final say.  Other than proper sanitation techniques, addition of fertilizers, proper moisture control, and in some locations the addition of live spores can help a tree rebound from such a s tressful growing season.

The Year of the Fungus

Blumeriella leaf spot of cherry and plum, Blumeriella jaapii  (Helotiales: Dermateaceae)
We also noticed this year that several of the Flowering Cherry trees had lost the majority of their canopies by late July.  This was due to a fungal leaf spot disease called Blumeriella Jaapii.  This leaf spot disease results in small lesions scattered across the leaf surface.  Over time, these lesions kill leaf tissue, which then fall out of the leaves, leaving behind a series of holes.  High populations of the fungus have left trees looking like they were shot with a shot gun. 
Shortly after this occurs, leaves quickly fade from a healthy dark green to light green and finely yellow, before dropping from the trees.  This defoliation can reduce the overall health of trees due to the reduction of photosynthesis for the remaining growing season.  It is important to remove all infected leaves from the property once they fall.  The spores can still be attached to the fallen leaves where wind, rain and even animals can cause re-infection if not dealt with properly.  Removing all dead material from the canopies of the infected trees will help remove habitat for the fungus, and also habitat for damaging insects.  This dead material also acts as wounds in a tree.  The tree will expend energy to try and heal over these wounds, but with the limbs still attached energy is being wasted.  Energy will need to be conserved until these trees can recover from what Mother Nature has thrown at them.  Proper watering and fertilizing for the remainder of the growing season will help reduce stress, restore lost energy and help trees recover from what could be a devastating event.

Winter Injury — Visible Even Now

This past winter’s weather has been wreaking havoc on many plants in the landscape this growing season.  Fluctuating temperatures, drying winds, bright sunlight and inadequate watering are common causes of winter injury.  As a result, we have been noticing that many of the younger and less established plants did not fully leaf out this spring and that the abundance of flowers was greatly decreased from past years.  The cold weather damage has left many landscape plants stressed this growing season and vulnerable to insect and disease attack.  Aphids have been the most prevalent and are the most noticeable since they leave behind a black coating of sooty mold on the top side of the leaves.  This black coating is actually from undigested sugar.  The insect extracts fluids from within the plant cells, but does not utilize this material in their diets, so it gets passed as a waste product.  The byproduct, known as honeydew, quickly grows sooty black mold on it.  This pest takes advantage of stressed plant material, and populations can get out of control in a short period of time.  Once control of the insect is achieved, the honeydew will slowly wear off in time.         

Since winter injury does not necessarily cause the plant to die, the dead material will most likely need to be removed in order to help the plant compartmentalize the wounds.  Protecting your investment by protecting the plants that are most vulnerable to winter injury with an application of anti-desiccant can reduce the likelihood of damage and allow them to continue to beautify your landscape. Proper scheduled maintenance is key in identifying potential issues before they become a problem.

The Weather: Impacting Plant Health

May and June brought record amounts of rainfall to our area.  This rainfall was much needed, however, it resulted in many root systems being buried in saturated soils. Too much water around a tree’s root system can lead to a host of problems.  While some trees have adapted to survive the occasional flood, most have not.  Each tree species has certain water requirements they need in order to maintain a high level of health.  For example, oak and pine species have adapted to grow in drier soil conditions while poplar, willow and sycamore species are better suited for wetter soils.  As trees reach maturity their ability to adapt to environmental changes decreases, and their ability to maintain a high level of health suffers when we have abrupt weather changes. 

When soils stay saturated for extended periods of time, oxygen is removed from their structure and roots are no longer able to exchange gases (breath), and root dieback occurs.  Without a proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, root systems recede, leaving the tree unable to absorb enough water to meet the demand of the tree’s canopy.  Trees experiencing this growing condition show signs similar to leaf scorch, where leaves turn brown and die due to a lack of moisture. 

The best solution is to avoid installing plants that are intolerant to excessive soil moisture. Choose the right species for the right location in order for your landscape to prosper, and you’ll know you have invested wisely.
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