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Hints to prevent tulip tree scale infestation

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Across Indiana this week, homeowners with tulip poplar trees could be finding their cars and landscape plants covered in a mysterious sticky film.

This time of year, tulip poplars are easily recognized by their leaves, which resemble a tulip and the 2-inch long lime green and orange flowers in the canopy.

The culprit in the sticky mess could be the tulip tree scale insect, a small, sap-sucking bug that feeds on the trees' branches.

Declared as the state tree of Indiana in 1931, tulip poplars are well regarded and widely planted for their beautiful flowers and form, shade and rapid growth. The tree's sap carries vital nutrients, and feeding by the insect can cause damage to the trees in addition to the unsightly mess.

Though it is a native insect, the scale can reach high numbers on tulip and magnolia trees.

As the bugs feed on the branches, they excrete a sticky waste product called "honeydew," which rains down out of the infested tree canopy and onto objects below.

The honeydew is a favorite food of other insects such as ants and wasps, as well as a fungus called sooty mold.

Sooty mold growing on the honeydew often gives vegetation under infested tulip trees a black moldy appearance, but is primarily an aesthetic problem.

Heavy tulip tree scale infestations can cause yellowing and drop of leaves, branch death or whole tree mortality in smaller trees. Homeowners with tulip trees can recognize tulip tree scale on sticky trees by looking for mottled orange bumps about 3/8-inch long left by last year's female scales.

This year's scales are black and flattened and only about 1/8-inch long. They have yet to mate and plump up with this year's eggs.

Certain insecticide treatments can help control scale populations and their damage, but if improperly applied can kill bees and create other problems.

A soil-applied systemic insecticide such as imidacloprid, can provide control if applied now. It will take at least three weeks to get up into the tree canopy, by which time the flowers will have fallen off the trees, diminishing the impact on bees.

Although foliar sprays can be effective, most homeowners lack the equipment they need to reach the treetops.

These products are best applied by a tree care professional.

For more information on control options and some background on scale insect, call the local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 or call 1-888-EXT-INFO.

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I have 4 Tulip Poplars on my property and my neighbor has one. Last year my trees developed this scale infestation. With communicating with the Illinois extension office and the University of Kentucky, I learned of the disease. I contacted my closest "tree man" and he recommended Bayer tree and shrub pesticide. He told me to apply this at the base of my tree by digging a trench all the way around the tree and applying the correct amount of this pesticide. You have to measure the circumference around your tree and add one ounce of this per inch of circumference. I applied this at the correct window of time, and it did not work!!!! This year my lower limbs are dying and the trees look as if they are bleeding out with huge drops of honeydew. They are mature trees, therefore I do not have the right equipment to apply a spray to reach the canopy. The economy is going to the dogs and I cannot pay the thousands of dollars to have them injected to save them. I am at a huge problem and don't know which way to turn. I cannot keep my sidewalks clean, my cars cannot be parked in the driveway, my white fences are black and have to be scrubbed down every few months, and it is putting mold on my roof of my house. I am worn out by this problem! Someone reading this please help me with any cheap advice that you have. I do not want to cut my trees down and I fear this is my next alternative.


Brad Wells

Sumner, Illinois

-- Posted by bradwells on Sun, May 20, 2012, at 12:27 PM

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