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Ash trees are dying across Western Illinois, but there is still a final use for them
Working for Illinois Extension I get to travel quite often, mostly throughout west-central Illinois. And 2021 has brought a significant decline in ash trees in this area.
Emerald ash borer (EAB) is a non-native insect that attacks healthy ash trees. EAB is nothing new. I have written about this insect before, mainly when it was first discovered in the area around four years ago. Yet at that time, the effects of EAB had not yet been felt. Today it is obvious how they have ravaged the landscape.
You likely have seen the telltale signs of EAB. Ash trees usually die starting at the top where the insect begins feeding. In a desperate attempt to remain alive the tree activates latent buds along the trunk and weakly attached water sprouts emerge giving the interior of the tree a bushy appearance. Over a few years, EAB will move downward feasting on plant tissue underneath the bark until the ash tree is dead.
Where I live in Macomb dying ash trees line many streets and shade homes and yards. Yet, I see the same thing happening in Jacksonville, Quincy, Stronghurst, across the river in Burlington, Iowa, and all the small communities in between.
In the coming year, tree crews will be busy mostly doing ash tree removal. And many homeowners are going to be paying thousands of dollars to get these dead ash trees cut down. It is uncommon for funding resources to help homeowners with the cost of cutting down an ash tree but check with your local municipality if they have any special programs. With all that money spent, and a gaping hole where a massive tree once stood, it may seem a complete waste.
There is one final use of an ash tree struck down by EAB, and that is to have the tree chipped up to use those very woodchips as mulch in your landscape. Will using ash tree woodchips spread EAB? Well, EAB is pretty much already everywhere in this part of the state, so that is not much of a concern, especially if you recycle the tree back into your yard. Plus, most wood chippers chop up the material small enough (less than 2-inch diameter) that EAB cannot survive on that small of a surface.
Woodchips are an underutilized resource. Often free or available for a small fee, woodchips provide much of the same benefits as other types of mulch. Woodchips do have a coarser texture than shredded cypress mulch, but the woodchip size and shape are also a benefit. Woodchips do not mat down and create a “shell” like most shredded wood mulches. This allows more air and water to pass through woodchips and is beneficial to soil health.
Curious if woodchips would look good in landscape beds? Stop by the McDonough County Extension office where we demonstrate many different types of mulch. You will find woodchips as a mulch layer in some vegetable garden beds and landscape beds.
And if you getting an ash tree cut down and don’t want the chipped up tree parts, give me a call, I’ll take them!
Good Growing Tip of the Week: The only way to protect a tree from EAB is to treat it with a systemic herbicide. For many ash trees, treatment will be too late if 20 percent of the canopy has already died as typically up to 50 percent of the tree has been infested with EAB.