Laidback Gardener TIp of the Day

Mountain Ash: Beautiful but Short-Lived Tree

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An exceptionally old mountain ash: few make it to this stage of maturity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mountain ashes (Sorbus spp.) are beautiful small trees with many good features: decorative bark, masses of white flowers in spring, dense clusters of orange-red fruits in fall that persist part of winter and that attract birds, etc. But they also have a major flaw: they are incredibly susceptible to diseases including fire blight, a deadly disease that always seems to hit just when the tree begins to reach its most beautiful. The symptoms? A branch suddenly turns black in mid-summer, retaining its brown leaves, as if it had been scorched. Over time, the disease spreads, causing cankers on the trunk. The next thing you know the tree is half dead (literally, because often the disease affects one half of the tree before the other) and you have little choice but to remove it.

Yes, I know: theoretically you can prune off the blighted sections, sterilizing your shears between each cut. But this seems to be a strictly aesthetic measure, as once the tree is struck by fire blight, it inevitably comes back year after year, eventually killing the tree

And fire blight is just one of the diseases that can strike mountain ashes: there is also rust, scab and a long list of insects, from scale to borers. If you want to grow a mountain ash, calculate you’ll have to remove it in as little as 15 years… and that is very, very little time for a tree.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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