Mistletoe may be good for those desiring a kiss but not so much for your trees…
We see a lot of mistletoe around here. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that love and lingering holiday cheer are in the air, but rather, that the seeds propagating the parasite are soon to be airborne. (And watch out: Mistletoe seeds are ejected from the plant at speeds of up to 60 mph!) It’s something to be aware of as mistletoe is detrimental to the health of your trees.
Note the abnormal branch growth of the witches broom on this fir. Photo by Cephas via Wikimedia Commons
North Idaho is home to a handful of dwarf mistletoes that are specific to our native trees. Larch, Douglas fir, ponderosa and lodgepole pines are all primary host species. In our work, we have seen it most often in larch and Douglas fir.
What does mistletoe look like? It’s most easily spotted when the infection is full-blown and affected limbs have witch-broomed in response. A witches broom is a mass of chaotic branch growth that appears as a dense clump in your otherwise well-formed conifer. The witches broom is a response to the mistletoe but not the mistletoe itself.
Larch dwarf mistletoe shoots begin to sprout in the spring eventually forming clusters of shoots as seen in this plant. Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service Archive
Mistletoe is hard to detect early on. For several years, no outward symptoms may be apparent. This is known as a latent infection. After several years, though, scaly shoots emerge. However, since they are only two inches tall and are likely hidden in the canopy of the tree, most property owners don’t notice the early stages of mistletoe infection. Thus, we are often called in to treat more heavily infected trees that have had many years to spread the parasite to surrounding trees. This makes mistletoe eradication difficult.
Mistletoe harms trees in numerous ways. For one, as a parasite, it takes water and nutrients from the tree for its own growth, leaving the tree weaker and more susceptible to other insect and fungal invaders. Infected trees grow slowly, and heavy witch-broomed limbs are prone to breakage due to their weight. Mistletoe often leads to tree death. It also creates a fire hazard. All of this means that a mistletoe infested tree is a hazardous tree.
Our approach to mistletoe treatment is to first assess the tree to determine if the tree is a candidate for pruning or removal. If the infection isn’t too severe, pruning of witches brooms and less affected limbs will be undertaken. Healthy looking limbs adjacent to infected ones may also be removed in case infection is latent. Pruning in subsequent years may be necessary to catch future outbreaks. And pruning is best undertaken in the early spring or late fall when pollen and seeds are not being released from the mistletoe. We don’t want to inadvertently spread more infection.
One last thing to consider is that mistletoe does have its uses. Various birds and forest animals use witch-broomed limbs for cover and as nesting sites. We once found ourselves in a tree, dodging a group of flying squirrels leaping to safety. There is something to be said for leaving an infected tree alone if it is not a direct hazard to you and the health of your forest.
If you have concerns about mistletoe, give us a call for an assessment. And for more information, there are several helpful publications online:
What is fuels reduction, and how can it save your home this fire season?
The major headline in today’s Bonner County Daily Bee, “Area fire crews already battling wildfires,” is a sobering reminder to regional property owners that it’s never too early in the season to focus on fuels reduction (or forest thinning) and fire preparedness. The article details how local fire districts have been responding to incidents in the region, some caused by out-of-control burn piles and all exacerbated by our lack of snow this winter. With no snow on the ground, fuels (i.e., grasses, brush and trees) dry out faster, even during the winter months when cold air saps the moisture out of everything (think of how your skin feels on cold, dry winter days).
A healthy forest makes for a healthy burn. A healthy burn will likely leave your home safe.
So, what is a land owner to do? How can you protect your home in the face of a potentially disastrous fire season? Fuels reduction is the key. Trees must be thinned, concentrating on increasing space between canopies. Down below, ladder fuels (vegetation that allows a fire to climb from the forest floor to the canopy) must be reduced, including branches, brush and young trees. Surface fuels (dead and downed timber and limbs) should be removed as well as they can harbor and build heat during a fire. As an additional safety measure, residents can clear a swath of trees through the forest 5 to 15 feet wide that acts as a fuels break. This gives firefighters an advantage when trying to save homes. Basically, the idea is to manage fuels so that when a fire does come, it acts as a healthy ground fire that cleans up the forest while sparing large trees and structures.
At Sand Creek Tree Service, we’re not just arborists; we’re also wildland firefighters. We know how to keep forests healthy and safe, and we’d rather do that than battle flames at anyone’s doorstep.
In 2006, Tyler’s job on a fire in Alaska was to quickly assess homes that were in the path of the blaze. Defensible homes received a single pink flag on the driveway, alerting firefighters that the effort of saving the structures was worth it. Meanwhile, homes with no fuels reduction received three flags, telling firefighters that trying to save the buildings was too dangerous. Homes were lost that day due to thick fuels.
The lesson is to make sure your home is defensible. And not just your home, but access to your home as well. If you have a long driveway with thick trees, reduce fuels on each side of the road 5 to 20 feet back depending on the fuel types. That means thinning some trees, removing saplings, and limbing up larger trees. Another thing to consider is whether there is enough room to get a fire engine down your driveway and turned around.
Sand Creek Tree Service can help with all fuels reduction work. We know what a defensible home looks like; and sadly, we’re familiar with properties that don’t stand a chance. Call us today for an assessment of your property.