Birch trees vulnerable to killer diseases

The numbers of living, healthy birch trees have been rapidly declining in Central Alberta.

The numbers of living, healthy birch trees have been rapidly declining in Central Alberta.

It is a common sight to see birch trees with dead tops or branches. In extreme cases the entire tree will be dead.

Birch trees, weeping and paper, are large majestic trees commonly found in Alberta yards. They are noted for their attractive white bark, small green leaves and yellow fall colours.

Birch trees are usually used as a specimen, or a shade tree. In the wild they are one of many trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that form a thicket or bush. Plants within this ecosystem compete for moisture while at the same time shading and protect the birch tree’s shallow roots from the heat. A lawn does not offer the birch trees the same protection. In fact, it is part of the problem as lawns requires more moisture than the native undergrowth. During hot dry periods, the birch roots become too warm and dry. As a result the trees become stressed.

Stressed trees react by producing more sap than usual, making the tree more inviting for diseases such as perennial canker. This disease is caused by a fungus named cytospora which enters trees through small openings in the bark. Once the fungus enters a tree, it forms a canker that chokes the phloem and xylem cells, expanding until it slowly girdles the branch. The process can be very quick and kill the tree in a season or it can take a number of years. Unless one looks for dead branches on a regular basis, the first sign is often a section of tree not leafing out in the spring.

Checking for perennial canker, cytospora, is as simple as removing a small piece of raised bark or canker. The tell tale signs are small pimple like structures which contain black fungus. Like most diseases the fungus will leave the host and travel infecting other plants.

The ideal conditions for this to occur are warm, moist spring days that allow the fungus to catch the wet breeze and transfer to another susceptible plant. A chemical control is not available. At present, good cultural practices are the best way to control the disease. A healthy tree will not be subject to an infection.

Fertilize birch trees in the spring to ensure the plant has adequate nutrients. Moisture is also very important. Make sure the tree receives adequate moisture during spring and early summer.

The tree should also receive extra water just before the ground freezes in the fall. Placing a sprinkler under the tree to ensure the roots are moist and cool in hot weather will help reduce the tree’s stress.

Remove dead and diseased wood cutting back to a branch or limb with healthy wood.

Prune in dry weather as the fungus spreads when it is wet. Burn or double bag all diseased wood immediately. Do not keep it for firewood or take it camping. Do not leave the dead tree standing as it will enable the disease to spread. Action needs to be taken to stop the spread of Perennial Canker before it kills more birch tree.

To ensure that trees are not stressed making them susceptible to insect and diseases they must receive an adequate amount of sunlight, moisture and nutrients.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at your_garden@hotmail.com.

Just Posted

RCMP looking for these two suspects
Police looking for suspects who stole truck in central Alberta

A Ford F350 was stolen out of Blackfalds on June 9. Two… Continue reading

An excavator is tearing up old parking lots at the Michener Centre north site. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Demolition gets underway at Michener Centre’s north site

Some people are nostaligic, but not everyone is sad to see it go

The Red Deer Indian Industrial school stood off Burnt Lake Trail and across the Red Deer River from Fort Normandeau. The residential school is known to have lost at least 70 students through illness, poor sanitation and nutrition. (Advocate file photo)
Some Indigenous leaders say SNC-Lavalin can’t make up to First Nations people with offer of help

Quebec company is connected to MP Jody Wilson-Raybould allegations

RCMP are looking for this 30-year-old missing woman.
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing woman

The Red Deer RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance to locate… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

(Photo contributed)
Red Deer’s Ernco Braves go 4-0 in opening weekend games

Braves shot out Edmonton Padres in four straight games

Love it or hate it, tequila conjures up strong feelings in many drinkers. For some, there are bad memories. But today’s premium tequilas are changing some of those perceptions. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Rethinking tequila: Premium brands aim to change perceptions

LONDON — Love it or hate it, tequila conjures up strong feelings… Continue reading

This image provided by Glenorangie shows Glenorangie's Giraffe Tin. To enjoy the occasional beverage and also help wildlife, consider Glenorangie's Giraffe Tin. The Highland Scotch maker's stills are the tallest in Scotland, as tall as a giraffe, and the collectible tin is patterned like the animal's coat. Each purchase supports the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. (Glenorangie via AP)
Father’s Day gifts that celebrate interests old and new

After a pandemic year in which the shape of work and play… Continue reading

Pumpjacks are shown pumping crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., on June 20, 2007.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Canada’s crude oil exports have increased 15-fold in 30 years: report

HALIFAX — The value of crude oil exports from Canada has increased… Continue reading

Everlasting Wind, aka Dawn Goodwin, joins others by raising her fist in the Mississippi River near an Enbridge pipeline construction site, on Monday, June 7, 2021, in Clearwater County, Minn., to protest the construction of Enbridge Line 3. Goodwin is a co-founder of RISE Coalition. More than 2,000 Indigenous leaders and "water protectors" gathered in Clearwater County from around the country. The day started with a prayer circle and moved on to a march to the Mississippi headwaters where the oil pipeline is proposed to be built. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via AP)
Minnesota court affirms approval of Line 3 oil pipeline

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed… Continue reading

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a news conference held by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of airports, airlines, hotels, boards of trade and chambers of commerce, to urge the federal government to implement a reopening plan for travel and tourism, at the Ottawa Airport in Ottawa, on Monday, June 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadian business leaders demand plan to reopen borders, economy now

OTTAWA — Business leaders are calling on Ottawa to immediately lay out… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021.  The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

The national spotlight on residential schools is also highlighting a difficult question… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister, not shown, and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland joins Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they participate in a virtual discussion from Ottawa on Monday, May 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals move to cut debate, force vote on bill to implement 2021 budget

OTTAWA — The Trudeau Liberals moved on Monday to force an end… Continue reading

Most Read