Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pine trees struggle in KS

August 16, 2007


There are fewer trees on the golf courses this year, making play somewhat easier for me. The reason for the decline: Kansas has no native pine trees. They are all immigrants, and because of this, they suffer more than most trees from bugs, fungi and weather-related problems.

Various species were brought here for windbreaks, Christmas tree farms and landscapes. Periods of drought, high temperatures and now the spread of insects and diseases are affecting their very existence. There are eight specific issues for pines in Kansas - not to mention that they are not drought-tolerant and do not like our winters. Four of these issues are prevalent this time of year.

  • The first issue is a natural event called needle drop. This affects pine, arborvitae and spruce. Simply put, the plant is shedding its leaves (needles). The inner needles on a stem turn yellow and drop, leaving the outer portions green and healthy. This yearly drop will start on trees 2-4 years old and benefits the plant.
  • Next, there's brown spot, which is a fungus that affects the ponderosa, and Scots pine (also called Scotch pine). The Austrian pine is resistant to brown spot. Lower-limbed needles develop yellow-to-tan, resin-soaked spots. The spots may enlarge to band the needle completely. By mid-fall, diseased needles turn completely brown and fall from the tree. The fungus overwinters in the diseased needles. New spores are dispersed with the spring rains. A good indicator of brown spot is the spread from the bottom of the tree up. One or two applications of a fungicide in May or June and again three to four weeks later may deter further development in the infected tree, but is more effective in preventing the spread to adjacent trees. Removing and destroying the infected needles, both on and under the tree, is recommended.
  • A similar fungus, Dothistroma needle blight, affects Austrian, ponderosa and mugo pines. Like brown spot, it affects the lower portion of the tree. Symptoms are dark green bands or scattered yellow-to-tan spots on the needles. The band or spot will turn red, the needle past the band will turn brown, and the base of the needle will remain green. Two fungicide applications, mid-May and mid-to-late June, are recommended, especially on adjacent susceptible plants. Make sure that all needles are covered completely with the fungicide. Removing and destroying the infected needles is again recommended.
  • Pine wilt is the most serious problem for Scots pines in Kansas. It also has been reported on Austrian and more rarely on eastern white pines. It is caused by a very heavy infestation of a microscopic worm called the pinewood nematode.

The fatal problem was discovered for the first time in the United States in 1979 in Columbia, Mo. It was found the same year in southeast Kansas and has been progressing west at about 10 miles per year. It is now just west of Hutchinson.

The pinewood nematode population explodes during hot Kansas summers, severely reducing the tree's resin and moisture flow. This reduced flow dries and then kills the needles and soon the tree itself. The symptoms appear well after the tree is infected. The stressed tree can die in a matter of weeks.

Here is the interesting part: The nematode is a small worm and has no method of getting around. Nature has provided another insect, the pine sawyer beetle, to be the nematodes' transportation. The beetles lay their eggs on recently cut or fallen pine logs and overwinter on the infected wood. The adult sawyer emerges in the spring and, just as they do, the nematodes (numbering in the tens of thousands) enter the sawyer beetles' windpipe ready to travel. The pine sawyer beetle searches for a new tree, depositing nematodes as it feeds, and the cycle begins anew.

Pine wilt has no cure. Prevention may be possible by using one of two chemicals, Aracinate or Greyhound. They must be applied by a certified applicator (usually arborists) and are very expensive. A single application may cost $150-$300 per tree plus labor. They are 40 percent to 80 percent effective. Sanitation is the only way to stop the cycle. Remove and destroy all infected wood, every year, before the beetles start to emerge in April and May.

These are just the fall concerns. In the spring, the European pine sawfly affects Scots and mugo pines; Sphaeropsis tip blight affects Scots, mugo, Austrian and ponderosa pine; Pine needle scale affects pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, yew, and cedar; and the Nantucket pine tip moth affects Scots, Austrian and mugo pine.

I certainly can understand why the pine tree has not naturalized or done well at all in Kansas. Still, we try, and the lone survivor at the golf course still catches many of my golf balls.

- Stan Ring is the horticulture program assistant at K-State Research and Extension Douglas County. He can be reached at 843-7058 or <a href=""></a>.


justthefacts 10 years, 9 months ago

I am glad to see this issue getting some press. The evergreens around the US are being hit hard by this infestation. There are some areas of pine forrests that look like every tree is going to die. At this point, I'd think 10 times before planting any tree that could get this pest.

Personally, while I love the look of evergreens, my soil/garden (or I) have killed any type I've planted. So I've given up.

farmgal 10 years, 9 months ago

I've planted about 60 or more white pine trees over the years. They are pretty hardy, but certainly not as hardy as native cedars. For wind breaks, definitely go with cedars. The white pines are beautiful, but they take a lot of watering, way, way more than the cedars. White pines have denser growth, so make better wind breaks. Their needles are soft instead of pokey, so when you brush up against them, they don't "hurt" you like the Australian and Scotch pines do. I don't care for the Scotch or Australian pines at all, but that's what most people plant.

farmgal 10 years, 9 months ago

Clarification: I meant to say that the white pines are denser than most other pine trees, so make better wind breaks than other pine trees do. But, cedars are the best for Kansas windbreaks, hands down, in all departments.

stuckinthemiddle 10 years, 9 months ago

farmgal You're right... white pines and a good choice, as well... A variety of furs and spruce to pretty well, as well...

salad 10 years, 9 months ago

Lots of conifers of all types dying like crazy in our neighborhood. We planted a yew spring 06', between last summers drought and the nematodes, it died. We replaced it with a viburnum, which is doing great. A note on Cedar trees: They are murder on people with allergies, and they really suffer in an ice storm (more so than hard wood deciduous trees). Other than that, they really seem to do well here.

Katie Van Blaricum 10 years, 9 months ago

Weird, I was just thinking to myself yesterday "wow, look at pine trees. They grow everywhere, and they do really well". I guess that isn't the case afterall! My cedars are okay, but they have a horrible bagworm infestation right now!! I have picked off at least 1,000 this month, and they keep coming back.

tolawdjk 10 years, 9 months ago

If you think it looks bad here, you should see what it looks like up around Vail Pass. Everywhere you look, brown dead tops...probably up to 3 in every 5 trees in some areas. Not sure what it is, but its ugly and I can't imagine it improving anytime soon.

And then up in the Great Lakes they are dealing with the Emerald Ash Borer. Whole swaths of ash have to be cut to set up quarenteen zones. Before that it was the Asian Longhorn.

Seems like everywhere has something doing its damnedest to kill off the trees.

acg 10 years, 9 months ago

When I bought my house, the previous owner, who had built the house, had planted a Blue Spruce in the front yard in memory of a child they had lost. We agreed that they could have that tree removed and take it with them but the removal guy said it couldn't be done because the root system was too deep and complicated and moving it would kill the tree. So they left it and they come by every once in a while and stand around it. Now, it's dying and I have no idea why. I feel awful, too because of how important it is to that family, but I have no idea what to do for it to make it happy. Anyone have any clue how to save a sad looking blue spruce?

Ken Lassman 10 years, 9 months ago

Kansas not only has no native pine trees, it is the ONLY state in the US without a native pine. Go figure! Of course you're talking about the present time only. Palynologists (go look it up) doing core samples at bogs in central KS found that during the last ice age there were plenty of spruce, firs and pines in our beloved state. They just headed north with the ice. Global warming doesn't bode too well for Kansas pines, although who knows? Maybe there's some southern pines that will acclimate to our area, kinda like the armadillo!

chefscott 9 years, 10 months ago

We recently just moved to Kansas City, and didn't realize that pine trees weren't native to the area. You see so many. Apparently becoming a real problem in the KC metro judging by this blog I found as well.

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