The ash borer cometh


EABSideClose Actually, they’re here. Emerald
Ash Borers
have been devastating trees throughout the  Midwest since they were identified in 2002, and recently
they have been identified as a major threat in New York, where—at 900 million—ash
trees are among the 5 most common trees, and where Adirondack baseball bats are
made. The little bright green bugs—Asian natives—burrow under the bark of trees
in their larval state, killing the trees within a few years. They’re easily
transported long distances in firewood; thus, they could kill all the ash trees
throughout the U.S., given time and opportunity.

This is something we all want to prevent, of course. So far,
I’m hearing of  three different
approaches. There are the traps, which are triangular and colorful,
and lure the bugs inside with scent. Some kids in London, Ont. thought
these were art installations
. There are several chemical injections, given at
long intervals (and can't be administered prematurely): I’ve heard of Tree-äge, Arbor-Jet, and some that seem to be
proprietary to the arborist who administers them. And then there is quarantine
stopping infected counties from sending wood to uninfected counties, as well as
“burn it where you buy it” advisories. Purdue
in 2008 indicated a natural predator, but I don’t know what became of
that project.

I guess this is the type of extreme scenario that we’re
warned about when wholesale bans of pesticides are brought up. (That, and
bedbugs.) People in New York are scared about this one, and I hope it does not lead to a chemical free-for-all.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. When they were first seen in Windsor (across the river from Detroit) a huge ‘firewall’ was created – in effect, cutting down all ash trees in a huge area to try and prevent the spread, plus they had a ‘no-wood out’ policy where people weren’t supposed to transport firewood, mulch etc over county lines. . Doesn’t seemed to have worked – they’ve now been spotted across southern Ontario. The pesticides I’ve heard about are way too expensive for most private owners, and cities have way too many trees to afford to apply them to all…

  2. From what I’ve heard from the researchers studying the problem, the time for massive pesticide applications has come and gone — there was hope (as Chris commented) of isolating the borers in Michigan and surrounding environs, but they’re simply moving too fast. Pesticide can save individual trees that people care about, but on the large scale I think we simply have to accept that ash are going to die in huge numbers.

  3. These type of insect plagues are beyond the scope of remedies with pesticides. It is simply not possible or advisable to treat entire forests that cross state and national boundaries. A homeowner may be able to treat and save an individual tree, at an expense, long enough for the ecosystem to find balance or science to find the right predator for the emerald ash borer.

    While driving across lower Michigan recently I saw a lot of dead and dying trees. My guess was they were ash and the culprit the emerald ash borer.

    Here in NC, the hemlocks are toast. The wooly adelgid is well on its way to total destruction of hemlock trees. The mountain slopes are pockmarked by their dead carcasses.

    This is not new. The Chestnuts are gone and Dutch Elm disease took those out. Some pest attacks birch here as well. There are all kinds of pine beetles wreaking havoc.

    A planet wide unitary ecosystem advances forward. We are witness to evolution.

  4. On behalf of the Chicago area, I apologize for your infestation. This all started in some wooden pallets from China. The good news is that by monitoring the trees and immediately destroying those that are infested and surrounding Ash trees, the plague can be restrained. It has not turned up in every suburb of Chicago yet, and it’s been seven years, much slower than the Gypsy Moths.

  5. I just had the EAB training provided by the University of Illinois Extension this week. If you choose the chemical route it has to be continued for the rest of the life of the tree. It doesn’t take long before removal becomes more cost effective.

    China gets 70% control with 3 different parasitic wasps which are currently being studied. Of course the danger of introducing a new insect is will it also get out of control?

    Some asian ashes are resistant and with conventional breeding we might have some resistant varieties in about 50 years. With GMO we might have some in 10 years.

  6. It has costs cities millions to remove their dead ash trees. With the economic down turn I wonder if they will be able to keep up with the removal.

  7. I don’t have a scientific background on the Ash Borers but my observation is that they have devastated Washtenaw County, MI. I live in a small rural community, the city removed the large tree in front of my home – it was on the extension. I see hundreds, even thousands of dead trees throughout the area. Its been heartbreaking.

  8. Oops! I must have had a pre-senior moment. I confused the Ash Borer with the Asian Long Horned Beetle, which got its start around here in pallet wood. The Ash Borer is not taking the Chicago Metro area by storm, but it is spreading. The lesson to be learned from the Ash Borer is (once again) monocultures are not good. Diversity is the way to go.

  9. The EAB showed up in Prince Georges County, MD a while ago, and they thought they had it controlled. They were wrong. I commute to south of DC from Howard county, and I see purple traps in trees all along the way. My guess is MD is trying to assess the extent of the infestation. The majority of trees on my lot are ash. The grandaddy ash is in decline and has been for some time. It’s a prime target for EAB or even the native Clearwing Ash Borer which attacks only stressed trees. I shudder to think I might have to remove all my ash trees. If I do, my shady backyard will be full sun, all day. Goodbye woodland garden. Goodbye azalea bed. Goodbye beloved hostas and hydrangeas. It’s coming. The question is when? I guess I better get busy planting other shade trees.

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