Monday, October 21, 2013

It doesn't just happen in the forest

I'd heard about it and seen its effects on western road trips, but I assumed it was a problem that was found on Weyerhaeuser land, or at Georgia Pacific, or another one of the big Northwest lumber companies. It never occurred to me that the pines in my my own modest residential garden might fall victim to the destructive mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae. But it seems this beetle is just as happy in an urban setting as it is out in our national forests.
On a tour of our garden this past summer, a visitor pointed out to me the hardened deposits of sap that had oozed from the trunks of our Shore pines, Pinus contorta, (also known as Lodgepole pine.) He explained that this was the sign of a pine beetle infestation.

The Mulch Man had been concerned for some time that despite supplemental summer water and careful pruning, the sap flow and excessive yellowing of the needles indicated the three pines weren't in optimum health. He was particularly concerned about the tree that sat on the east side of the Northwest Territory and had always been less robust than its brethren in the north bed.
It doesn't look too bad in the image above, but when you look closer, you can see quite a bit of yellowing in the needles throughout the tree.

The mountain pine beetle attacks Ponderosa pines and Lodgepole pines. There isn't a lot you can do to fight these beetles once they are established. It may take a while to happen, but eventually the tree will die. Since our pine had declined markedly since summer, we reluctantly decided it needed to come out.
After years of carefully nurturing our green privacy screen to the east, we now can't avoid our neighbor's back door and kitchen window. .

So what to put there for fastest coverage? It came to me: move the established Rhododendron 'Anah Krushke' out from under the cedar and locate her five feet to the north. So today I spent a few hours wrestling the poor thing out and back into her new home.

That left a space too, but it's a different space. The expectation is the cedar will expand northward while the rhody expands southward (and upward.) We can add some ferns now, and in a few years the space should be more private again.

Meanwhile, we are monitoring the two north pines very carefully. Although they show definite signs of the mountain pine beetle infestation, the trees aren't looking too bad yet. That could change quickly, like the first tree, or we could get lucky and have a few years for succession planning.
But it's sad to contemplate that future: we'll lose two more trees we really like - and quite a bit of privacy - all at the same time. With good planning I hope we can replace those pines with a minimal amount of exposure. Since this is the Northwest Territory and his garden domain, you can be sure the Mulch Man will be on it.


  1. Oh Jane, that's awful, I'm so bummed for you...I think you came up with a good plan in the interim...and I hope your other trees can make it.

  2. Jane, I'm sorry for your loss. I never would've thought of such a thing. I'm crossing my fingers for your remaining tree.

  3. Yikes, I am very sad for you and the Mulchman. I would have thought those to be bullet proof plants, shows what I know (not much). Privacy is so key to enjoying outdoor spaces, here's hoping your solutions grow fast.

  4. Damn! Rotten pine beetles! Sorry about your beautiful privacy screen. Fingers crossed for the survival of the others.

  5. Oh, what a bummer about your pine tree. I hope your others make it. Love your solution!

  6. We lost a 'Dragon's Eye' pine this year and blamed it on the gophers. You did say that they afflict Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines (exclusively?). Need I worry about my beloved 'Thunderhead'?
    You were a regular Amazon, wrestling with that large Rhody. I sure hope it does the job.

  7. the poor mulchman! Those are really beautiful. I didn't think the pine beetle was in the Portland area. I always hear about it being bad in central BC but thought it stayed in the interior regions. Sad. Hopefully things fill in. Maybe you can sway the mulchman more in the ways of the tropics and plant more trachycarpus?! or something like teddybear magnolia would be stunning.

  8. Nooooo! I am devastated for you. I'm so sorry. :(

  9. Thank you all for your kind expressions of concern. I like to think a garden loss is an opportunity for positive change. I just hope that change, when it comes, won't take too long to grow into renewed privacy screening for us.

  10. First, let me say that Northwest Territory is an awesome name for a garden. But let me also add my heartfelt condolences to those you have received above. Losing a tree is a painful thing. But I admire your calm and practical response.

  11. I knew there was a uh-oh as soon as I read the title. Sorry to hear that. Rhodys are impervious to most everything, are they not? Nice to see your Northwest Territory, other than the loss, it looks good! What is the little tree changing color?

    1. The pretty tree is Cornus 'Eddies White Wonder', Hoov. We are impatiently begging it to grow faster: the plan is for it to canopy this part of the garden.

  12. How sad to lose mature trees and their screening qualities too. My new screening strategy -- and PNW native -- is waxmyrtle. Evergreen, fast growing. Attractive too, I might add.

  13. Heartbreaking. Maybe you can get some Pacific Wax Myrtle (or the like) and grow them in large pots for a few years. By the time the Pine has met its demise, the myrtles will fill in nicely. This is what I'd do anyway. I love the way the river rock is situated along the edges of your paths. It looks so natural. Have a great weekend, Jane.


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