Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash Tree

White Ash trees have a reputation for having very strong and flexible wood, but when I drove past this treewilting white ash Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash Tree on my job site, I knew I had a serious problem! Generally a tree bent and straining in this manner is suffering from severe drought conditions, and is in danger of losing branches under the strain of holding it’s own weight up! This year has been particularly rainy on the east coast, so this type of appearance in a tree was a little confusing at first, especially in a tree that had shown no signs of insect damage.

White Ash trees are an American native tree, rarely prone to disease, although they are vulnerable to the Emerald Ash Borer and Verticillium Wilt. I quickly checked the tree and saw no Borer holes entering the tree’s trunk – although insects and birds seemed to be showing a peculiar interest in this and two other surrounding trees. The branches on all three White Ash trees showed healthy summer leaf growth and color, even though they were bowed way down over the nearby sidewalk. To my eye, these trees did not appear diseased, so diagnosing the cause of their stress related appearance was out of my league.

I contacted a knowledgeable arborist, who found a simple answer to my puzzle. Heaps of green flowers and red clusters of what looked like tiny dried Chili Peppers, were clinging to the branches all over the tree, in what was an off-season burst of blooms. Bees, wasps, and birds were constantly darting in and out of the tree, in what turned out to be a feeding frenzy, rather than a sign of insect infestation, as several neighbors feared. Apparently, several types of birds feed on the seeds of Ash trees, and the pollinators, and carnivorous bugs were feeding on the massive amounts of nectar, or tiny pests that had been drawn to the tree. The arborist was perplexed to discover that the tree had both leafed-out for the summer, and exploded in an unprecedented amount of blooms, when the two functions on the tree are not supposed to occur at the same time. Blooms on a White Ash tree are supposed to precede leaf growth, and be small, and barely noticeable! This tree was simply weighed down under the weight of it’s own abnormal fertility, and the prescription for the tree was to simply let nature take it’s course. The White Ash blooms will dry up, the rest of the “chili pepper” seed pods will drop off, and the tree will regain it’s upright stature in the next few weeks.

img 0202 225x300 Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash TreeThis is one of those times when the simplest answer to a problem can be staring you right in the face, and you don’t even see it, because you are going “by the book.” I am not sure if the unusual amount of rain we received, or the cooler than average temperatures contributed to the trees apparent fertility confusion, but either one could have thrown the tree off it’s regularly scheduled program.

I am doubly glad though, as I am writing this, that I did contact someone with the experience to recognize the cause to my problem. This tree apparently did not read the textbooks on how it was supposed to behave, and had I applied any treatments to the tree to keep the birds, and wasps off of the tree, I would have robbed the local ecosystem of what was apparently a valuable food source.

Your thoughts: Have you ever run into something in your yard or garden that just didn’t quite seem to make sense and later realized it was something fairly unique going on?

Tips on Saving a Wilting Ornamental Ficus Tree (and other Office Plants)

img 0195 225x300 Tips on Saving a Wilting Ornamental Ficus Tree (and other Office Plants)

I was recently delivered a spindly, wilting office Ficus Tree from a sheepish co-worker, who was hoping for a miracle. The tree was dropping all of its leaves, and the only ones remaining were pale yellow-green, and browning on the tips. I agreed to take the tree for a time to see what I could do for it, and took it outside to check it over.

Here are basic tips for diagnosing office plants:

  1. Check the plant’s root system for symptoms of being “pot bound.” This is a big problem for office plants who may begin to “blend in with the wallpaper” after a year or two, and who don’t get the basic care that garden plants do. Make sure a plant isn’t strangling itself with its own root system.
  2. Look for bug activity in the soil and under the leaves. See if anything is sucking the life out of the tree, or the leaves causing the yellowing and browning.
  3. Ask if the plant has been fertilized within the past 6 months. Over-fertilizing, and under-fertilizing can both be a problem.
  4. Note whether the plant looks like it has been trimmed, or pruned to encourage new growth.
  5. Ask if the plant is near a regular light source of any kind.

The first week I observed the plant, it dropped almost every leaf that it had, and was dubbed “The Charlie Brown Christmas Ficus” in our office. In the case of this Ornamental Ficus Tree, the first problem was that the plant had never been pruned (since purchase), and had sent out too many branches that had not been trimmed back. As a result the tree had “diversified its assets” in a way that the small container of soil couldn’t help it maintain. After pruning all the dead, wilting, and dwindling growth, I left a few main stems that showed strong signs of life, and tackled the second problem by fertilizing the anemic plant with a product containing “minors.” Very light leaf color, followed by major leaf loss on what used to be a healthy plant, are often connected with malnutrition in a plant. The plant has been going strong now for about three weeks, with a healthy amount of leaf growth, and dark green foliage (a good sign of health!), and will be delivered back to it’s office sometime next week – unless I fake its death, and keep it for myself!

Tip: The best fertilizer for any plant is one that contains trace amounts of the “minor metals” that may have been used up in the soil by plants over time. The quickest way to recover “exhausted” soil is by applying this type of fertilizer. Look for the phrase “With Minors” on the front label of any fertilizer.

Don’t forget to take care of your office plants with once or twice a year fertilization. And for the green-thumbs out there, keeping a tiny bag of fertilizer in a common area drawer is a great idea! One way to meet new people, or network around the office, is to help people with their plants!

Your thoughts: What success stories have you had nursing wilting plants back to life? Do you have any favorite indoor/office plants?