Is Dutch Elm Disease Killing Your Trees?

By: albertaarb - August 26, 2015

Aggressive fungi could be to blame if your elm trees are dying, despite being in overall good health. According to experts at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Ophiostoma ulmi fungus is an aggressive growth that will kill your elm trees if left untreated. This fungus spreads easily and will continue to attack elm trees in the area, causing wilting and eventual tree death.


How can you recognize the signs of Dutch elm disease (DED), and what can you do to stop it?

The Mechanics of Dutch Elm Disease


The fungus invades a tree's internal structure, creating a system-wide infection that causes the tree to cut off the flow of water to branches and leaves. In a healthy elm tree, water is absorbed and distributed from roots to leaves, almost like blood flow through the human body.

In a tree impacted by DED, the pathways are blocked due to toxins from the fungus itself and the tree's own natural response to attack. According to Scientific American, all trees, even large species like redwoods, use vein-like pathways to transport nutrients and water to promote healthy growth. When those essential pathways are blocked, the tree can't get essential nutrients, and it wilts and dies rapidly.

How Dutch Elm Disease Spreads


Losing one elm tree is bad, but DED spreads readily; once one local tree is infected, others can easily follow suit. According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are two main ways DED is transmitted:


1. Via the roots of adjacent trees: When two trees grow close together, their roots can become entangled and actually graft together. Once this happens, the root system they share allows the fungus to travel freely from one tree to another.


2. Elm bark beetles: Like their name suggests, these insects lay eggs inside decaying or dying elm trees. Once the new beetles emerge, they move on to healthy trees to feed, spreading the fungus and infecting the new trees.


The fungus can spread at an alarming rate, since several generations of beetles can hatch in a single year, and thousands of beetles can emerge from a single elm tree.

Identifying and Treating Dutch Elm Disease


The first signs of the disease include wilting at the top or outermost branches; as the disease progresses, more parts of the tree are impacted. You may remove branches to save an individual tree, but you should consider entire tree removal if there are other healthy elm trees in the area. Tree-safe fungicides and special trench-digging techniques can also spare remaining trees and prevent the fungus from spreading to an entire population of trees.

What Should You Do?


The best way to handle DED is to call a qualified and experienced arborist to evaluate your trees at the first sign of trouble. If you know you have elm trees, you must check them regularly for signs of unexplained wilt or limb damage.


The experienced tree specialists at Alberta Arborists are ready to help out; contact us today if you're worried about your trees and the risk of Dutch elm disease, or you just want a professional opinion.

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