When Chris Tidrick and his wife Mindy were guests in our home at the beginning of this month, we were walking through the garden and I noticed some white foam exuding from the trunk of the willow. The bark was dark around the foam and it just looked wet.
|Photo by Christopher Tidrick|
Also noticed were some warty growths in abundance on the trunk and on major branches. Giving those a scrape showed green underneath.
Google can be your friend, but when the news isn't good, it doesn't feel that way. Between several of us searching for an answer to the willow's problem, and information that Chris later forwarded to me from a tree expert , it would appear that our willow has slime flux disease, or bacterial wetwood disease. This is a disease that affects the cambium and causes rot.
It's common in willows and several other types of trees and may be what killed the sister tree to this one a few years ago. It simply died one year and we really never knew why, but assumed it was the drought we'd suffered the summer before. Both trees were planted when we lost yet another weeping willow to a storm one summer when winds uprooted it.
Doing some more reading on bacterial wetwood today, I found that doing nothing would almost surely mean the tree would eventually die from the disease. But by removing the infected area and treating it with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution could give it a chance.
So, Romie and I got what we needed and proceeded to remove the bark until we encountered green cambium (the layer under the bark). We removed quite a bit, seeing bits of green here and there, but never really running into consistently healthy tissue. We stopped, tried to make the surgical wound as smooth as possible and soaked it with the bleach solution.
Now we wait and see, but I'm not hopeful, since the tree didn't leaf out like it normally does and it's been dropping leaves (most of them yellowed) like crazy. I think it's a case of too little too late and that its days are numbered, and Max's Garden will be undergoing a major change in appearance soon.
There are other trees in the garden - all maples - so it isn't that we'd need another tree there. And I really wouldn't have to move too many plants to other shady areas (a few Tricyrtis, a couple of Hostas, and a Ligularia), but it's hard to imagine this garden without the willow. The garden was designed around it.
This hasn't been a good year for trees at Our Little Acre. We also lost our Japanese Fantail Willow 'Sekka'. And the fourth tulip poplar we've tried to grow is gone, too. It leafed out just fine this spring (it's third here), then promptly died. I think we won't plant any more willows or tulip poplars.