Invasive Species Defending Your Condo's Landscape

Invasive Species

 In March, federal and state agricultural officials trumpeted some good news to  New Jersey residents: The state is officially free of the Asian Longhorned  Beetle.  

 The declaration marked a victory against the invasive pest that was first seen  in Jersey City in 2002. Over time, sate and federal agriculture officials found ALB-infested trees in  Carteret, Woodbridge, Linden, and Rahway. Eradication efforts involved the removal of 21,981 trees in Union, Middlesex,  and Hudson counties—about a third of which have since been replaced with trees less hospitable to  the beetles.  

 Free at Last

 “After more than a decade,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher announced in mid-March, “we can declare New Jersey is free of this invasive pest. We could not have  accomplished this eradication without this coalition of federal, state, and  local agencies, and of course, the citizens of New Jersey, whose vigilance was  critical in this fight.”  

 The second state to declare itself ALB-free—Illinois claimed the designation in 2008 — New Jersey chalked up the victory to a “vigilant” public that was encouraged to inspect trees for signs of ALB damage and report  any suspicious findings. “The public is our best defense against the beetle,” Victor Harabin, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) associate deputy  administrator for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant  Protection and Quarantine program. “Early detection is essential, and I want to thank the citizens of New Jersey for  their efforts to stop the spread of this invasive pest.”  

 At the same time, other states are still battling the ravages of the insect that  is thought to have arrived in this country via wooden pallets or packing  materials. The beetles make bore holes in the host tree, eventually killing it,  and have no known predators in this country. Since 2008, some $50 million in  federal and state money has been spent on eradication. In central  Massachusetts, entire neighborhoods were stripped of shade trees and an embargo  has been in place in Massachusetts and elsewhere, prohibiting the movement of  firewood because it could potentially harbor the voracious bugs.  

 Unfortunately, there’s only one major weapon in the fight against these invaders. “Currently, the most effective method of eradicating the Asian longhorned beetle  is to cut, chip, and burn infested trees, replacing them with non-host species,” the US Department of Agriculture notes in its ALB factsheet. “Cooperative research continues in the United States and Asia in an effort to  find acceptable alternatives to tree removal.”  

 The recent New Jersey eradication announcement was welcome news, but state  forestry officials cautioned that “many other pests will actively threaten New Jersey’s trees” and residents should not let their guards down.  

 Instead, they should be girding for battle with the Emerald Ash Borer, says  Brian Brunsch, an ISA-Certified Arborist with SavATree in Wyckoff. First found in Detroit in 2002, the EAB has been, literally, spreading its wings  across the nation. Unlike the ALB, which on its own isn’t very mobile, “this one flies up to a mile, mile and a half a year,” Brunsch says. “We haven’t had any declared EAB infestation in New Jersey, but with Pennsylvania having  infestations and New York having infestations only one county away, it’s naive to think it won’t be here very soon. It’s very devastating; it can kill a tree in a year or two.”  

 To avoid devastation like that caused by the longhorned beetle, Brunsch says, “Prevention is the best medicine.” As with ALB, injecting the tree and having an arborist assess the trees is the  best way to go. Trying to control EAB and keep it contained in one tree is  tough, he says, because of the insect’s mobility. “Proactive is better than reactive, although there have been instances now where  they have been able to treat and recover trees that have been attacked. This is  pretty new; we’ve only had it for 10 years in the country—and it usually takes the first three or four to figure out what it is and how it  works. After that, you figure out how to contain it.”  

 The eradication effort aimed at the ALB—cutting down trees and chipping them—wouldn’t work for the Emerald Ash Borer, he says. “It only works with the ALB because it’s lazy; it doesn’t want to fly. It doesn’t work with EAB because they fly.”  

 The most pervasive way the insects spread, however, is with the help of humans. “It’s not the flight path, it’s firewood,” Brunsch says. “Ash wood is awfully nice to burn.” If people stop moving firewood, the spread of the insects can be slowed  drastically, he advises.  

 How can an association be certain whether it’s being invaded? Call in the experts for an assessment.  

 “First, call a certified arborist to correctly identify the problem pest and the  recommended control measures,” says Alan Milstein of Rich Tree Service in South Plainfield. “Next, call a licensed and reputable tree company to apply the necessary control  treatments.” And whether or not your trees are currently infested, Milstein says, it’s wise to “deep-root fertilize with a balanced quality fertilizer, and a complete  bio-nutrients package will always assist to increase plant health and vigor.”  

 Unfortunately,” he says, “the last two years have offered up Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy, and two  October snowfalls. Undoubtedly, these types of conditions will be causing  excessive stress on trees and plants in our area, and we can expect heavier  detections of wood-boring beetles such as the Two-Lined Chestnut Borer, Bronze  Birch Borer, Elm Bark Beetles, Ash Borer, Rhododendron borer, Dogwood borer, Flatheaded Apple Tree borer and Turpentine beetles.”  

 Hurricane Sandy, Milstein adds, “will have a great impact on environmental stress this year to many trees and  shrubs, due to the loss of main leaders and branches, which will reduce the  amount of food—carbohydrates—a tree can produce. This loss of photosynthesizing surfaces, the leaves, forces  the tree to put out new growth to balance out the root/shoot ratio to stay  alive. The trees with the most damage will struggle to accomplish this and are  more likely to attract these beetles.”  

 See Them, Smell Them

 Another invasive bug New Jersey residents encounter these days is known by its  smell. “The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) seems to be the most recognizable invader  in recent years,” says Milstein. “It’s more of a nuisance pest, both indoors and outdoors. In searching for a  protected, overwintering site, this insect is drawn to the outside of houses on  warm, fall days. They do feed on fruits, vegetables and a variety of plants,” he says. “They’re harmless to humans but will emit a foul-smelling odor if crushed.”  

 This stink bugs are native to China, Korea and Japan, and, as with so many of  the current invasive species, it appears that the shield-shaped brown insects  arrived in the United States by hitching a ride in shipping containers coming  from Asia. Because they’re strong fliers, the bugs easily spread once they’ve arrived; they’ve been found in 38 states, from Washington to Florida, according to the Center  for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia.  

 Not Just Bugs

 But not all the invaders impacting New Jersey landscapes are insects. In fact,  foreign plants are also invading local properties—and, sadly, they originally arrived as invited guests.  

 “There are a lot of invasive plant materials,” Brunsch says. “The king of that category is the Ailanthus. They called it the ‘Tree of Heaven’ because it can grow three to 11 feet a year.” The trees are native to Asia, came to America via Europe centuries ago, and  found this a very hospitable place to thrive. “It was first bought into the United States in 1784,” Brunsch says, and now “it’s on pretty much any invasive species list in the lower 48 states. I don’t think there’s any state where it’s not at least on the eradication list, if not the invasive list.”  

 Many of the invasive species, flora and fauna, that New Jersey residents—and others across the nation—are battling now have their roots in the Far East. “We’ve brought a tremendous amount of plant material in from Asia. In the 1600s, a  lot of material went from Asia to Europe, and all the botanists in Europe were  bringing these things in to their country. And then, when they discovered a new  place to put stuff in the ground a couple of hundred years later, they started  bringing it here.” But plants and insects that are innocuous in their native habitat can wreak  havoc in a new environment. Though well-intentioned, the people at that time “opened a Pandora’s box.”  

 Ailanthus, Brunsch says, “will pioneer and take over any recently-cleared area, roadsides, or newly  planted areas, will seed in there and colonize, and take over pretty rapidly.” With its frond-like leaves, the plant can seem attractive. “Most people mistake it, and think it’s just a tree. It looks decent, but it’s tremendously invasive. They grow extremely rapidly.” Give ailanthus an inch, and it will literally take over your yard. Since first  landing on these shores, the plants have spread profusely, and now “are pretty much all over the Northeast,” he says, spurred by the fact that the plants are very tolerant of a wide  variety of growing conditions—thriving happily in shade or full sun.  

 The only way to deal with this invader, Brunsch says, is to take the trees down,  and then do vegetative controls on any seedlings that germinate.  

 Too Small to See

 Another category of invaders, he adds, are the diseases that attack local  landscapes. “One of the big things here is Phythopthera, a root disease that attacks a lot of  ornamental plantings.” Having arrived with plant materials brought in from other places—notably Asia—the diseases get into the native soil and spread. Phythopthera, he says, goes to  the plant’s root system and then plugs the vascular system of the plants—like cholesterol does to our bodies—so that the plants can’t drink. Rhododendrons and azaleas, popular landscape plants here, are  susceptible.  

 The key to fighting all these invaders, Brunsch says, is vigilance.  

 “Some condominiums are proactive, others are not,” he says. But since many of the invasive pest problems are easier to control  when they’re small, “being proactive is the key.” 

 Pat Gale is associate editor of New England Condominium, a Yale Robbins Inc.  publication.


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