Here in and around Fort Wayne, we’re living in a post-ash tree world. And the implications of that aren’t always pretty.
The emerald ash borer has led to the death and removal of at least 9,000 city-owned ash trees, city officials say, oftentimes leaving only stumps in their wake. Thousands more privately owned trees have been cut down or stand skeletonized.
And many residents are finding the balance of nature in their yards has shifted dramatically because of tree loss, city arborist Chad Tinkel says.
Residents face dead or dying landscape plants and grass and pest- and weed-infested lawns because the trees provided shade that no longer exists.
For some people, their whole landscaping has changed. They had shade, and they put in hostas and shade-loving plants and shade grass, and now they don’t (have shade), he says. You’re basically having to redo the whole outside of a home.
Area lawn and garden specialists have been scrambling as people call on them to help fix the problems.
Annette Boyer, who lives on Colony Drive in northeast Fort Wayne, is one. She says dozens of ashes have died and been cut down in her neighborhood, including a row along her street. She also has dying ash trees in her yard.
During the summer, she says, she noticed her grass becoming sparser and thistles and other weeds sprouting in now-sunnier spots. She called Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator for Purdue University’s Allen County Extension for advice.
The last couple of years we had someone (professional) taking care of it, but this year we didn’t. I’m probably going to have someone come in and do the landscaping next year, she says.
Brian Woodward, marketing manager for Kapp’s Green Lawn, says waiting until spring is probably a good course of action. The bad news, he says, is it’s too late in the season to make a commonly needed corrective action – completely reseeding a lawn that had been planted in shade grass with sun-loving grass types.
The best time to do seeding is in September, he says. Any seed, at best, will pop in 10 to 14 days. Most don’t come up for 30 days. That puts you into November, and by then we’ll probably have frost, so the grass, it may come up, but it will die off by the end of November.
Chris Leeper, owner of Leeper’s Lawn Service in Fort Wayne, agrees. He says area landscapers generally use Oct. 10 as their cut-off date for fall reseeding, which typically starts in mid-August.
But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done, he says.
Although spring is the recommended time to redo a lawn, if shade grass has died and been replaced by weeds, there’s probably no harm in spreading herbicide or even a weed-and-feed product now, he says.
In the wake of tree removal, landscapers often spread a weed-killing chemical to get what he calls a clean slate. Then they disturb the soil, fertilize and seed. Seed needs plenty of contact with soil to germinate, Leeper says.
You could do the (weed) kill now, and then be ready to go (in the spring), he says.
Kemery says reseeding can be done as early as mid-March or April, depending on the weather. He suggests bluegrass and rye mixes with at least three cultivars, or strains of grass, to get more disease resistance. There also are mixes with endophytes, a fungus that helps make grass healthier. That seed is appropriate for lawns but not pastures because the grass can sicken grazing animals.
In the last 10 to 15 years, they’ve come up with some really nice grasses. Fifteen to 20 years ago, they didn’t have the variety, he says.
Some lawns, Kemery points out, have had a double-whammy this year: drought in late summer coupled with more sun from tree removal.
That’s apparently what happened in Boyer’s yard, he says. The conditions led the grass to be affected by billbugs, root-killing beetles that take advantage of warmer and dry weather, he says.
Kemery adds that if a lawn has sun-tolerant grass but still looks a little stressed, fertilizing now can strengthen the plants so they’ll do better next year, he says. That’s because the grass takes in the nutrients in the fall and hangs on to them and uses them for root growth. In the spring, you get more of a top growth response, he explains.
Leeper and Kemery say now is also a good time to move shade-loving perennial plants and shrubs such as hostas and rhododendrons into shade if their spots have become sunny. They say sun-loving perennials in other parts of the garden can be moved or be divided at this time of year to replace the shade-lovers or new sun-tolerant plants can be planted now or next spring.
Tinkel says now is a good time to ask an expert to evaluate landscaping and advise about changes, and it’s also a good time to take down dead or dying trees so they don’t become hazards during upcoming wind-, snow- or ice storms.
If an ash has been bare of leaves all summer or is sprouting small leafy branches from the trunk, it’s likely infested, he says.
Finally, Kemery says, now also is a good time to begin to budget for changes next year.
Depending on the number and size of trees, he says, removing them can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars – even before the cost of replacing them, redoing a lawn and re-landscaping.
When I do site visits, even though people knew the pest was coming, it’s become a big, unexpected and unbudgeted expense for sure.