There are literally hundreds, and soon to be thousands of dead and dying White Birch trees in and around Ashland. Traveling around town on the surface streets playing “spot the dead birch” can keep an arborist very busy.
Everyone loves White Birches, the shockingly white bark, the delicate serration around the margin of the leaves, the grace in their pendulous form (especially in a light breeze), what’s not to like?
Twenty or so years ago, people planted White Birches up and down the west coast towns and cities like crazy! In every neighborhood, and on every street. And then we forgot to water them. Birches LOVE water! But that is not what is finishing them off. There are a few airborne fungi that thrive in the valley, carried aloft on the afternoon spring breeze, the fungal spores waft around and find their way to those pendulous branches we all so love. Now we are setting the stage for the main actor… Enter the bronze birch borer! This little bugger (no pun intended) loves White Birches. Even more than us! For dinner, for lunch, and as a breakfast snack. Flying around, this flat headed boring beetle sniffs around for an easy mark. “Ah Ha!” he says, “Not only were you thirsty, but the fungal attack has left you a little drained”, and he moves in for the easy kill.
The tell-tale sign of this little “son of a birch borer” is a dime to dollar sized stain exuding from an oval shaped hole about 1/8” inch or so in diameter. The stain has the color of a cup of dark roast coffee with a teaspoon of cream added (no sugar). The remedy? Sadly, it is my opinion that once your birch has been attacked, there is none. I have tried everything, including injections, for the last 35 years or so and the result has been 0% survival rate. One saving grace is the River Birch, or Betula nigra. Really cool trees with a lot of similarities to the white birches, and fine specimens abound! As of this writing, they appear to be unaffected by bronze birch borers. But what happens when the borer runs out of White Birches? Will they go the way of the do-do bird also? Will they develop an appetite for other types of birches? The saddest thing is that people DON’T REMOVE THEIR INFECTED TREES!
If you have a dead or dying birch on your property, it is because someone else left their dead and/or dying tree stand so long that the larvae matured, and started the whole cycle over again! Yes, I get paid to take down dead trees, but I will only make money on that tree once! If you have a healthy White Birch, mulch and irrigate and keep your fingers crossed! Or plant a River Birch and put me out of a job. Fall is a great time to plant, and just around the corner… Time to go tree shopping.