It’s easy to look at the trees in your yard and think of them as being invincible. After all, they’re tall, strong, majestic, and often seem like they’ve simply been there forever. In reality, though, your trees are just as vulnerable to harm as any other plant. In fact, some of Massachusetts’ most common tree species are particularly vulnerable to disease. That’s why you need plant health care! So, sit back, read on, and take the time to learn what the symptoms are and how to stop these diseases from causing damage.
Tree Disease in Massachusetts
We’re not talking about pests like winter moths or the dreaded emerald ash borer when discussing tree diseases. Rather, we’re talking about fungal infections that can make your trees sick just like they would to you or me. A few that are worth looking out for include:
Common across the Northeast and anywhere that apples are grown in abundance, apple scab disease is caused by a fungus that infects both the leaves and fruit of a wide variety of apple trees. Infected fruit, in particular, is often rendered inedible, which can lead to a serious loss in revenue to small farms all over the state. Both commercial and decorative apple and crabapple trees are vulnerable, meaning that an infection can strike unexpectedly close to home.
Signs of apple scab include:
- Round, olive-green spots on fruit, usually measuring ½ inch across at the early stages of infection.
- Larger, black, or brown spots as the disease progress.
- Rust-colored brown spots on infected leaves.
- Yellowing leaves drop by mid-summer.
- Cracks in affected fruits as they mature.
While fungicides effectively prevent apple scab disease, there is no known cure for an infected tree. However, many disease-resistant apple and crabapple trees exist and can be widely found across Massachusetts. So if you want to rest easy knowing that your trees are safe, we recommend choosing one of those species.
Beech Leaf Disease
A relative newcomer to the world of tree illnesses, beech leaf disease was first identified in Massachusetts in 2012. Since then, it has become particularly common in the southeastern portion of the state, where it has had a devastating effect on American and European beech trees in urban and rural areas. Little is currently known about how the disease spreads from tree to tree or its incubation period. However, its symptoms are easily-recognizable and include:
- Dark stripes between leaf veins in the infection’s early stages.
- Green bands are visible on the leaves’ underside.
- Curly or withered foliage with a distinctly leathery texture as the disease progresses.
- An overall thinner appearance to an affected tree’s canopy.
As arborists are still learning about beech leaf disease, there is not yet an established cure or method of prevention. But if a beech tree in your yard or around your home is displaying symptoms, it should be reported to the DCR Forest Health Program for observation and safe removal.
Cedar Apple Rust
One of the more common fungus-related tree diseases in North America, cedar apple rust, is one of the more recognizable tree diseases around. In fact, if you’ve ever taken a walk through the woods, you’ve probably seen it before without knowing what it was! Affecting juniper and cedars trees as well as apples, crabapples, hawthorns, and other members of the rose family, it causes:
- Bright orange or red spots on the leaves of an infected tree.
- Small black or brown fungal rings on the undersides of affected leaves, especially on plants in the rose family.
- Hard, otherworldly-looking woody galls covered in soft orange fungal sprouts, sometimes called “witches brooms,” specifically on cedars and junipers during the spring.
Despite the disease’s shocking appearance, it’s actually more or less harmless. Infected plants rarely experience serious adverse effects and often thrive for years after developing symptoms. Given this, prevention is seen as the best course of action; take care not to plant roses or their relatives within several hundred feet of cedar or juniper trees and choose disease-resistant apple varieties for commercial purposes if necessary.
Dutch Elm Disease
Unlike cedar apple rust which is more of a nuisance of an infected tree than anything else, Dutch elm disease is quite serious. Spread by beetles and observed in Massachusetts for hundreds of years, this insidious and deadly tree disease has felled some of the region’s most majestic elms and shows little signs of stopping. In fact, in 1935, the Connecticut Agricultural Station published a pamphlet that read, “Any disease that threatens the existence of the American elm strikes very deeply in the hearts of all New Englanders.” So yes, it’s a big problem around here.
Dutch elm disease symptoms include:
- Wilting and yellowing leaves, particularly in the canopy.
- Vertical brown striations underneath the outermost layer of bark.
- Discolored rings are most easily-observed in fresh clippings.
- Downturned twigs are known as “shepherd’s crooks.”
- Premature leaf drop
- Significant canopy dieback can be worsened by drought conditions.
- Possible death.
Currently, there is no cure for Dutch elm disease. While an infected tree rarely succumbs to the disease itself, the symptoms, particularly when exacerbated by external factors, maybe more than enough to kill a mature tree over time. Pruning of new infected growth has been shown to be an effective therapeutic treatment, often extending an affected tree’s lifespan by several years. Additionally, it’s also thought that trees that become infected during the late summer display more mild symptoms, although the cause of that phenomenon is not well-understood.
White Pine Needlecast
Another fungal infection, white pine needlecast, primarily infects the eastern white pine tree. Another relatively new-kid-on-the-block, it was first identified in Connecticut in 1998 but has since spread across New England to the point where it can now be considered an endemic tree disease. Like many other fungus-induced diseases, the symptoms of white pine needlecast typically manifest in the leaves and include:
- Discolored needle tips on fresh growth, typically either light brown or white in appearance.
- Dark brown or black markings on fallen needles can be used to retroactively diagnose an infection.
- Premature defoliation.
Needlecast is not typically a deadly disease, but if it’s left untreated for an extended period of time, continuous early leaf drop can leave an infected tree without adequate nutrient levels. Prevention is both key and relatively simple, though. With the recurring applications of quality fungicides during the early spring, infections can easily be kept from occurring.
For the Ultimate Safety of Your Trees, You Want Plant Health Care From Sea of Green
Just like any other aspect of lawn or yard care, maintenance is key. Trees that are well-cared for, properly fertilized and given the finest pest and disease protection around rarely develop serious diseases. In the unlikely event that they do, though, a trusted and experienced tree care team can make a world of difference. At Sea of Green Lawn Care, our Plant Health Care Programs are designed with your trees’ long-term health in mind, so give us a call today at 978-465-8788 if you want your ornamentals to thrive for years to come! You can also reach out to us online here.