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How To Treat Dutch Elm Disease?

Dutch elm disease is caused by a fungus that is spread via elm bark beetles. Since its accidental introduction into Europe and America, it has wreaked havoc on native elm tree populations. Dutch elm disease has destroyed over 40 million trees in America alone since its appearance in the 1920s. This article will tell you how to spot Dutch elm disease on your trees and talk about treatment and prevention.  

What Does Dutch Elm Disease Look Like?

what does dutch elm disease look like

While Asian elm trees and some newer hybrids are resistant to Dutch elm disease, none of the native elm tree species in America are. American elm, slippery elm, rock elm, among others, are all susceptible to the deadly disease. 

If you have an elm tree on your property or in your area, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Dutch elm disease. Here’s what to watch for: 

  • In the spring and summer, you may notice fallen leaves all over your lawn.
  • Leaves that remain on the tree start to wilt, turn yellow, and then brown. This starts on the tips of the branches and works its way down to the trunk. 
  • If you remove some of the bark, you’ll notice brown streaks along the branches.
  • Symptoms typically show up in late spring or early summer.

If you’re unsure whether your tree is diseased, you should have it inspected by a tree professional, such as an arborist. 

Is There a Cure For Dutch Elm Disease?

Unfortunately, once a tree has been infected with Dutch elm disease, there is no way to cure it. If you’re sure your tree has the disease, it’s time to call a professional tree expert to see whether it can be saved. 

A local arborist or other accredited tree service professional should be able to give you a definitive diagnosis. If they determine that the disease has progressed too much to save it, they will recommend that you have it removed. A dying tree poses a serious risk to your property and those who live there. 

Can a Tree With Dutch Elm Disease Be Saved?

In some cases, a tree with Dutch elm disease can be saved, but the process is difficult and can get expensive. The property owner also must consider the risk of the disease spreading to other elm trees in the area. 

Elm bark beetles feed on the inner bark of elm trees and lay eggs under the bark of dying trees. Once the young beetles hatch and mature, they fly to healthy trees to feed. 

The beetles carry and rub off spores from the fungus throughout infected and healthy trees, making it difficult to remove the diseased areas.

Depending on how advanced the disease is, fungicide treatments are an option, but can only be applied by a trained arborist. Any chemical treatment will need to be repeated every 1 to 3 years. 

In some cases, if the disease is caught soon enough, you might be able to stop the progression by cutting off the infected limbs. But even then, there is no guarantee that the disease hasn’t spread to other areas that aren’t visible. 

Many experts encourage homeowners to cut their losses and remove trees with Dutch elm disease to mitigate the spread.

How To Prevent Dutch Elm Disease?

how to prevent dutch elm disease

The best way to stop Dutch elm disease from affecting your trees is to practice proper prevention techniques. Here are the best ways to avoid the disease:

  • If you’re planning on planting an elm tree, try to only purchase varieties that are resistant to Dutch elm disease. Asiatic elm trees or certain newer American hybrids are potential options.
  • Make sure you’re providing proper care and maintenance to your trees each season so that your elms remain healthy, and therefore less susceptible to disease.
  • Try to plant elm trees in an area with other types of trees. Dutch elm disease can spread underground through the roots of neighboring elm trees.
  • Don’t prune your elm trees during the active growing season, as this is the active period for elm bark beetles, and they are attracted to freshly cut wood. 
  • Having a tree service professional inject the tree with fungicide regularly (about every 3 years) can prevent the disease from occurring. 
  • If you spot an infected tree and remove either infected limbs or the whole tree, it should be disposed of properly. This means burning the tree if you’re in a rural area or taking it to a designated disposal site otherwise. Call your local county extension office to find out what to do with diseased trees.   

Discovering Dutch elm disease on one of your trees can be heartbreaking, whether it’s a beloved century-old tree or a young elm that you’ve put a lot of TLC into. But as long as you’re vigilant about caring for and observing the health of your trees, you should be able to prevent the disease.

To see how a professional arborist diagnoses and condemns an infected tree, check out this video:

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