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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - June 23, 2011

From: Bolingbrook, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Seeds and Seeding, Trees
Title: Ash tree shedding seeds early in IL
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I've lived in my house 13 years now and have a large and old ash tree in my backyard near my patio. The seed pods are ten-fold this year and are dropping constantly. I've never experienced this copious amount of seed pods and needing to sweep the patio daily and getting mounds of them in every sweep. Why are there so many falling early? I know that in fall they fall off and there were very many last fall too. My ash tree is located in a very damp area as the terrain in low there and gets lots of water.

ANSWER:

You don't mention what type of ash you are dealing with, but it is likely Fraxinus americana (White ash) as it is the most common native ash tree.

It is notorious for shedding its seeds and for having disease and pest problems.  Taylor's Guide to Trees says,  "Seeds are numerous, sprout readily and can be troublesome in landscapes". This Green Guru concurs; I have several on my Ontario property and I spend a lot of time sweeping and raking up the seeds and pulling the seedlings.

Michael Dirr says in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses

"One would wonder if the ashes have any value after reading the impressive list of insects and diseases, vigorous growing trees do not develop that many problems but homeowners should always be on the lookout and when something seems awry should call a tree specialist or seek help through their County extension office ..."

Generally speaking, when a tree produces a more copious amount of seed than normal it is due to stress (as a result of insect pressure, disease or cultural conditions).  The tree is making a last ditch attempt to reproduce in case it dies.

So we recommend you follow Michael Dirr's advice and consult an arborist or your County Extension Service to determine what the problem and appropriate action are.

 

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