Across the Rainy River District, many trees seem to be randomly dying at a relatively rapid rate.
Blair Lowey, part owner of Lowey’s Greenhouse near Fort Frances says there are a number of factors that could be causing trees to die.
The first possible cause he noted was black knot, a disease found in plum and cherry trees. The knots will spread and can kill the plants they sit on. Though many places in North America have prevention or control programs, there are none here.
When trees have black knot, Lowey says they shouldn’t be burnt, but instead buried. When black knot trees are burnt, smoke spreads the disease’s spores.
“[Having big dump fires] is probably not a good idea,” he says. “We should have proper disposal for these diseased trees.”
Lowey says large local infestations of armyworms can also pose threats to trees since they can easily spread disease through the trees they eat.
He says the emerald ash borer has travelled north into the region. They are an invasive species of insect that are highly destructive to ash trees.
“They’re just decimating our ash,” he says.
Lowey also mentioned the spruce budworm, a species that mainly feeds on balsam fir and white spruce trees. After four or five consecutive years of severe defoliation, the trees die.
On top of all the insect problems, sapsuckers migrate through the region in the fall and will look for bugs, creating holes in trees and making them even more susceptible to harm.
Lowey says drastic daily temperature changes can also cause damage. On warmer spring days, sap will start to run, but once it gets quite cold again overnight, the sap can freeze in the bark, exposing the tree and making it vulnerable to disease.
Sun scalding is another issue. It occurs when portions of a tissue layer called the cambium are killed due to temperature stress. Lowey says you can pull trees out of that by fertilizing. This will hopefully give them enough energy and nutrients to fight it off.
To combat disease in fruit trees, Lowey says trimming and pruning affected limbs might do the trick. He says to do that when it’s still about -10 degrees at night, and then spraying them with dormant oil.
To protect trees like evergreens, you can wrap them with wire or burlap.
“They’re vulnerable,” says Lowey. “It’s just like a kid — if you don’t protect them and treat them right, they could grow wild.”
He mentioned the row of elms along the highway near Alberton, planted in memory of those who died in the World Wars.
“I hate to say it, but they’re all destined to die,” he says. “They’re all going to get Dutch elm disease. There’s been no protection.”
Lowey says elms are crucial in air purification, which is why bigger cities are proactive in trying to save these trees.
“But in our neck of the woods, it’s quicker to just take a chainsaw and get rid of them,” he says. “There’s been so many trees chopped down, but you should replace them properly. At some point, someone has to realize that.”