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Dealing with ash disease

Stock picture of Mature Ash tree Studey, Warwickshire .  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Monday 29th October 2012. Picture credit David Jones/PA

Stock picture of Mature Ash tree Studey, Warwickshire . PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Monday 29th October 2012. Picture credit David Jones/PA

Ash dieback was the big environmental story of 2012 - and the deadly fungus Chalara fraxinea threatening to blight our ash and so change the face of our countryside is not about to drift away in 2013.

Guide showing gardeners what to look out for in their own trees - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.

By Hannah Stephenson

Ash dieback was the big environmental story of 2012 - and the deadly fungus Chalara fraxinea threatening to blight our ash and so change the face of our countryside is not about to drift away in 2013.

In December, Government figures revealed that the number of infected sites had more than doubled to 291 compared with the previous month.

More than half are mature woodland areas which were most likely infected by spores blown from continental Europe or Norway in the wind, rather than by diseased young trees imported from abroad, experts said. But how can you tell if the ash in your own garden is infected?

What is the situation in the UK?

The fungus was unknown in Britain until early last year. The first case was confirmed in ash plants in a nursery in Buckinghamshire, in a consignment which had been imported from The Netherlands. Since then, more infected plants have been confirmed in nurseries in a wide range of locations in England and Scotland. Experience on the continent indicates that it kills young ash trees very quickly, while older trees tend to resist it for some time until prolonged exposure causes them to succumb as well.

How is it carried?

Local spread, up to 10 miles, may be via wind. Over longer distances the risk of disease spread is most likely to be through the movement of diseased ash plants.

What are the symptoms?

Dead or dying tops of trees, most easily seen throughout summer; wilting leaves, most visible in spring and early summer; lesions and cankers on stems/branches/shoots, visible throughout the year; dieback of leaves with brown/black leaf stalks, seen throughout summer; fruiting bodies on fallen blacked leaf stalks, visible June to October; staining of wood under bark lesions, visible throughout the year. Check your trees as they emerge into leaf, watching for symptoms.

Is there a cure?

No. Once infected, trees can’t be cured. However, not all trees die of the infection. Some are likely to have genetic resistance.

What about newly planted ash trees?

The Forestry Commission advises people to check on any young trees planted in the last five years and is urging gardeners to buy disease-free stock from reputable suppliers.

How can I protect ash trees in my garden?

To reduce spread of the disease, remove all ash leaf litter from around the trees in the autumn and winter to reduce the local source of spores the following summer. It is thought that leaf removal, possibly coupled with the lower humidity levels in parkland and urban tree environments, can significantly reduce and slow the impact of Chalara.

Safely dispose of leaves by burning, burying or composting, although in some areas and circumstances disposal might need to be undertaken by a local authority.

Urban and veteran ash trees should be examined to establish any infection present, and the disease status of the tree should ideally be assessed by a professional.

What is being done on a wider scale?

The discovery early last year that it was in the UK, thought to have arrived on imported ash trees and blown as spores from the continent, has prompted fears of similar devastation as that wrought by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

The control plan unveiled by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in December includes measures to reduce the disease’s spread, by funding research on the production of spores at infected sites and working with other European countries to develop resistant trees. The import and movement of ash trees has been banned.

There are also plans to accelerate the development of a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups, and to support a biosecurity-themed show garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

A task force asked to assess the current tree disease threats to the UK and what can be done about them has made initial recommendations for a risk register for tree health and for measures to reduce the chances of diseases spreading at UK borders and within the country.

What are the knock-on effects?

A significant loss of ash trees could hit many of Britain’s rarest insects which live in ash trees. Lichens and mosses, which grow on its bark, would also be hit.

What can I do if I think my tree has ash dieback?

Fill out the Forestry Commission’s ‘Tree Alert’ form on its website www.forestry.gov.uk or call the Chalara helpline on 08459 335 577.

Best of the bunch - Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus)

This useful bushy evergreen, which grows up to 3m (10ft) in height and width, bears flattened clusters of perfumed white flowers which burst open in late winter and spring.

It also has attractive dark green, glossy leaves and black berries. Among the best are the types which have pink buds, such as V. tinus ‘Eve Price’ or ‘Gwenllian’, which bring a warm hue to gardens during the colder months.

If you’re looking for an alternative viburnum for winter, go for V. fragrans (V. farreri), which produces scented white flowers from November to February.

These plants are ideally grown in full sun in any fertile, moist but well-drained soil containing ample humus.

They don’t need to be pruned apart from shortening overlong shoots which spoil their outline, or cutting back old or damaged branches in May. They also act as a good backdrop for the coloured winter stems of dogwoods.

Good enough to eat - Planning your veg patch

Get your notebook out and start planning your vegetable garden on paper before ordering your seeds, consulting the family first so you know just what they’re prepared to eat!

Ideally, try to include veg from each of the main crop groups, brassicas, leafy salads, roots and legumes (peas and beans), and plan your crop rotation, so that no crop is grown in the same spot two years running.

This will help to avoid root pests and diseases. While digging in plenty of organic matter is always a good starting point, avoid putting root crops into newly manured ground, which can lead them to ‘fork’.


Three ways to... Succeed with peas

1. Start hardy varieties outdoors in late winter under cloches or in a cold frame in pots.

2. Keep peas moist while they’re growing because they like cool conditions. Give them some shade in midsummer.

3. Space seeds carefully because peas don’t like to be overcrowded.

What to do this week

:: Check overwintering fuchsias in the greenhouse to ensure they are getting as much light as possible and are not becoming leggy.

:: Buy broad beans for sowing under cloches at the beginning of next month.

:: If your seed and potting compost is kept in a cold place, bring it into the greenhouse several days before use, to give it time to warm to the greenhouse temperature.

:: Snip off the dead heads of pansies and trim back any dead stems - they will soon come back to life again.

:: Place young strawberry plants outside for four to six weeks, giving them a necessary cold spell before they are forced in February.

:: Apply fatty acid-based winter washes to dormant fruit trees to control overwintering eggs of aphid, apple sucker and scale insect.

:: Harvest sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts and leeks.

:: Lift Jerusalem artichoke tubers for cooking.

:: Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level (including Helleborus x hybridus and H. niger) to expose the flowers and remove possible foliar diseases such as hellebore leaf spot.

:: Sow sweet peas inside a heated propagator, in long tubes filled with compost (toilet and kitchen rolls make good tubes).

:: If you’ve prepared your vegetable patch for this year with winter digging, cover the soil with black polythene to warm it up for sowing veg in spring.

:: Prune standard apple and pear trees.

:: Order seed from catalogues, especially if you want a wider choice of unusual varieties.

29/10/2012 PA File Photo of a mature ash tree in Studley, Warwickshire, as the Government faced criticism for failing to protect woodlands as a ban on ash tree imports was introduced to try to stop a devastating disease spreading. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: David Jones/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

14/11/2012 PA File Photo of a general view of a young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves in woodland near Canterbury, Kent, which shows the symptoms of the deadly plant pathogen fungus Chalara Fraxinea Dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

14/11/2012 PA File Photo of a young Common Ash Tree in woodland near Canterbury, Kent, which shows the symptoms within its trunk of the deadly plant pathogen fungus Chalara Fraxinea Dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

A Generic Photo of a vegetable patch. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

14/11/2012 PA File Photo of Jonathan Harding, Field Manager for the Forestry Commission, holding a piece of Common Ash tree trunk in woodland near Canterbury, Kent, which has been infected with the deadly plant pathogen fungus Chalara Fraxinea Dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

14/11/2012 PA File Photo of a general view of a young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves in woodland near Canterbury, Kent, which shows the symptoms of the deadly plant pathogen fungus Chalara Fraxinea Dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Undated Handout Photo of Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus). See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/John Hiorns (www.crocus.co.uk). WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

14/11/2012 PA File Photo of a young Common Ash Tree in woodland near Canterbury, Kent, which shows the symptoms within its trunk of the deadly plant pathogen fungus Chalara Fraxinea Dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Undated National Trust Handout of an ash tree suffering with ash dieback. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/National Trust. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

07/11/2012 PA File Photo of Will Cranstoun, West Suffolk sites manager for the Wildlife Trust, holding an ash sapling infected with ash dieback disease at Arger Fen near Sudbury in Suffolk. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: Ben Kendall/PA Photos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

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