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Farms officials hope experimental tree treatments work

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 6, 2011

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The city that took a chance on an experimental procedure to save its ash trees is now hoping to be a leader in the battle against apple scab.

In mid-June, Woburn, Mass.-based tree care firm Arborjet sent representatives to the Farms to conduct the first in a series of experimental treatments on some of the city’s crab apple trees, Farms Public Service Director Terry Brennan said.

Apple scab doesn’t kill the trees, but it does cause them to defoliate early in the season; as City Forester Jacques Beaudoin said, by the end of August, the trees begin to lose their leaves.

“All of them seem to struggle,” Brennan said.

Because many of the city’s crab apple trees are along Lake Shore, Beaudoin said the city can’t use spray products because of the proximity to Lake St. Clair.

Even in other areas, he said, spraying the trees “has always been hit or miss. You have to time it just right” for it to be effective.

Arborjet supplied the Farms with the equipment it now uses to treat its ash trees in-house, he said. It’s using the city as a test site and providing the treatments for free, Beaudoin said. Arborjet chose 60 crab apple trees to treat this spring, and it will treat another 60 in the fall, using one of four different products on each: Alamo, a fungicide; Phospho-jet, a phosphorus fertilizer used for the control group; and two experimental plant derivatives, which are botanical products, he explained. Arborjet will end up treating roughly half of the city’s crab apple population, which Beaudoin estimated is around 250-300 and includes trees on Mack, Lake Shore and City Hall property.

He said Arborjet is using different products on different trees to see which, if any, work better; for the same reason, the company is treating some trees in the spring and others in the fall. They’ll also be watching to see if the treatment materials carry over into next spring, he said. Treated trees are marked with small, silver tags.

“They’re trying to come up with an economical, cost-effective way to treat these trees,” Beaudoin said.

Apple scab is a fungal disease that strikes during hot, humid weather. Signs of apple scab include the presence of small brown spots on the leaves, Beaudoin said. Once a tree has this condition, it has it permanently, he said. Apple scab is an old disease that impacts apple trees across the country.

“It’s very common,” Beaudoin said.

Unlike most other municipalities in metro Detroit, the Farms decided to treat its ash trees, rather than cut them all down in the wake of the destructive emerald ash borer. And it paid off: At press time, Beaudoin said the city still had about 600 ash trees left. The Farms now uses Tree-age on its ash every three years, treating one-third of the city each year. What they’ve found, said Beaudoin, is that after about a year of treatment, the canopy actually fills out and gets greener.

“We put a lot of effort into landscaping and trees,” he said, adding that the Farms only loses about 1 percent of its city trees annually. “We really do care about these things. It makes the community (better).”

If the treatments don’t work, like chicken soup, they at least won’t make matters worse.

“It’s not going to hurt the trees,” Beaudoin said.

If the treatment is effective, officials say they likely won’t see an improvement until next year.

A local Arborjet representative will visit the city periodically to monitor and record progress, Beaudoin said. The entire study is expected to take about three to four years.

“It’s going to be a long-term project,” Beaudoin said.

Farms officials are thrilled to have been chosen for the test. Beaudoin said they were selected because they have a large, fairly healthy crab apple tree population.

“I’m just hoping that they can help us preserve some of the older (crab apple trees),” Brennan said.