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Mr. Smarty Plants - Browning of Red Western cedars in Medina, OH

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Thursday - April 09, 2009

From: Medina, OH
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Trees
Title: Browning of Red Western cedars in Medina, OH
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a row of Red Western Cedars bordering my yard. One week after my lawn people but down spring fertilizer and grub control, they began turning brown. Is there any correlation? If not, what causes Red Westerns to have their branches turn brown? Thank you.

ANSWER:

Well, it would certainly arouse suspicions because of the time frame involved, wouldn't it? From our Native Plant Database, we learned that Thuja plicata (western red cedar), while native to North America (or it wouldn't be in our database) it is not native to Ohio. If you have had them for a while and they have been okay, the fact they are not native to your area is probably not the reason for the browning. 

So, we'll begin with the possibilities of the fertilizer and grub control. If the fertilizer was of the "weed and feed" type, and was sprayed around, that could very well be the source of the problem. "Weed and feed" fertilizer is specifically a lawn fertilizer. Grasses are monocots, and the weed killer in the fertilizer is aimed at dicots, or broad-leaved plants. So, what benefitted the grasses by killing off their competitors, the broad-leaved weeds in the lawn, could very well have done a lot of damage to the cedar. As for the grub control, we could find nothing about whether the ingredients in grub control were specifically a threat to plants, but, again, they contain certain toxic substances in order to kill the grubs, and if applied to tree foliage could likely cause trouble.

Other reasons for this browning? We learned that the western red cedar needs a moist, slightly acidic soil, but can adapt to a little more alkaline soil. It is susceptible to bagworm damage and heart rot, but neither are considered serious threats.

Conclusion? We don't have one. Again, the timing leads us to believe the spraying may be the cause. Whether or not the tree can recover, we don't know that, either. This is a valuable tree, and grows to be very large, but slowly. Give it some care, maybe some extra water, but not fertilizer, and hope that time will help the tree heal itself. Next time, either get a different landscaper or watch them closely. Untrained personnel often don't understand the consequences of what they are spraying around indiscriminately. 

Pictures of  Thuja plicata (western red cedar)

 

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