Problems, butterflies weigh heavily on tree choices


Like thousands of other Wisconsin home owners, we’re looking at dying trees and wondering what their replacements should be. The decision isn’t as easy as it sounds since there are many new tree problems on the horizon and we’d like to make choices that will benefit future residents as well as local wildlife.

Although many are dealing with dying ashes, our problem trees are spruces infected with needle cast (Rhizospharea). Diseased spruces are easy to spot since the needles drop off the branches starting at the bottom of the tree. It ends with what looks like a Christmas tree sitting on top of a pole.

But whether dealing with spruces or ash trees, what comes next is a big question. We’ve been researching replacements starting with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ recommendations and asking for suggestions from neighbors and gardeners who’ve put in new trees.

 We did plant potential spruce replacements years ago. There are five hemlocks lurking in the shade of the dying trees which, in theory, should shoot up when the spruces disappear. Of course, local hemlocks are now showing insect damage that wasn’t common this far north years ago when the winters were colder. And since most evergreens would like much more acidic soil than we can provide, I’m not sure how many more arborvitae or their ilk I’m willing to try.

Deciduous trees won’t provide the winter wind protection the spruces have, but we’re considering them. Callery pears (Pyrus calleryana) are beautiful in flower and recommended, although there’s some fear they’re becoming invasive. I like the look of Lindens (Tilia), but they’re supposed to be favorites of Japanese beetles and gypsy moths — ugh.

Improved elms (Ulmus) are on the DNR list. New breeding programs have produced trees resistant to Dutch elm disease (DED). The trees are huge — 50 to 70 feet tall and almost as wide at maturity — and many are susceptible to elm leaf beetles, among other problems. But ‘Accolade’ from the Arnold Arboretum is supposed to be resistant to DED and elm leaf beetles.

I love our two beech trees, but beech bark disease has appeared in Wisconsin, so I don’t think we’ll plant another. Hackberries (Celtis) are prone to storm damage, and with predictions for warmer winters, ice storms become more common.

Our leading candidate is — or was — a Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus deoica), which our neighbor reports is growing well at her house. It’s a Midwestern native, hardy to zone 4 and early to drop its leaves. The seed pods it drops are the only negative I’ve read about. I was kind of set on one of these until I picked up a little book about butterfly identification. It included information on each butterfly’s larval food plants, and that’s changed my ideas about replacement trees.

Now I’m reading about black cherry trees, trying to find well-behaved willows and giving more consideration to an elm. Butterflies like hackberries, too, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to trees easily damaged in storms — even in exchange for tons of butterflies floating through our garden.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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