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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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Monday - May 21, 2012

From: Mahopac, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Reason for tree canopy dieback from Mahopac NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants: Not a questions, just sharing, re person in Texas whose Ash Jupiter appeared to be dying "canopy very thin on top". We moved to Putnam Co. NY in 1970. Our house was shaded by 2 beautiful, huge, American Elms. In approx. 1995 we noticed a thinning canopy on each. The canopies of these trees spread over two roads (corner property) and 2 houses (incl. ours). Contacted a NYS who sent a "ranger" to look at them. To make a long story short, he said that the trees had "started dying" when the 2 roads and then houses had been put in, severely damaging the roots. They both had to come down in early 2000s. It broke my heart!

ANSWER:

Often when we are asked about mysterious symptoms in plants, especially trees, we suspect some interference with the roots or crowding by foundation or sidewalks. There is no way to tell if this is going on, especially if you were not present when the tree was planted or the structures built around it.

Still, credit where credit is due. Follow this link Ulmus americana (American elm) to our webpage on the tree. It does speak favorably about the tree but notes that Dutch Elm Disease has decimated the species. It also notes that this is a fast-growing tree, and fast growing trees are usually short-lived. If this tree was already shading your house in 1970 and didn't have to be cut down until 2000, it would appear that it lived a good long life.

We appreciate your offering this example of the difficulty of diagnosing (especially from a distance, as in our case) maladies or deaths of plants without a readily apparent reason.

 

From the Image Gallery


American elm
Ulmus americana

American elm
Ulmus americana

American elm
Ulmus americana

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