Dead ash trees amongst evergreens in Winston-Salem

You may have noticed many more dying, dead, or removed trees in our area over the last few years. While not everyone can identify different kinds of trees, it’s a good bet that most of the trees being removed are ash trees. And the reason for this popular street tree’s decline can be attributed to one thing – emerald ash borer.

In this article, you will learn what emerald ash borer is, how it is destroying trees across North America, and what you can do if you have any ash trees on your North Carolina property.

close up of an emerald ash borer (EAB) on a leaf with wings open

What is the Emerald Ash Borer?

Usually referred to as EAB, the emerald ash borer is an insect, specifically a beetle. It is a brilliant, metallic green color and about half an inch long.

The name “borer” means that it bores into trees, leaving a tell-tale pattern in a tree’s wood beneath the bark. Emerald ash borers also eat the tissue of ash trees, leading to girdling of the tree and its eventual death.

Emerald ash borers are an invasive pest that were accidentally introduced from Asia. They were first spotted in Michigan in 2002 but have spread to multiple states in the United States, as well as provinces in eastern Canada. They reached North Carolina in 2013, and the destruction caused by EAB in the Triad area is already widespread.

The beetle naturally flies from tree to tree, allowing it to slowly spread. However, it has greatly increased its spread by hitchhiking on ash wood products that have been transported to different locations.

How to Identify Ash Trees (Fraxinus species)

Not sure if you have an ash tree on your property? There are four types of ash trees that are affected by EAB in North Carolina:

  • White ash
  • Green ash
  • Carolina ash
  • Pumpkin ash

In some (rare) cases, EAB has negatively impacted the native white fringetree.

For help recognizing an ash tree, check out this identification brochure from the North Carolina Forest Service.

Top of a dead ash tree

How to Know if an Ash Tree is Infested with EAB

At this point, it’s safer to assume that all ash trees in North Carolina will be impacted by EAB sooner or later. As a result, it’s best to treat them or have them removed and destroyed for safety reasons (especially if the trees are already dead or dying).

However, there are a few signs of infestation that you can check for.

  1. Look for dead limbs at the top of the tree (the crown of the tree)
  2. Infested trees often send out shoots from roots and the trunk
  3. An increase in the number of woodpeckers on a tree can signal that pests are living beneath the bark
  4. Check for D-shaped exit holes in the bark of the tree – they may be higher up than you can view from eye level (use extreme caution or hire a professional if you think there may be exit holes higher in the tree than you can reach!)
  5. Bark splitting vertically is often a sign of an infestation
  6. A tree care professional can peel back a small section of bark to look for larvae galleries (long tunnels where EAB larvae have fed)

The Impact of Emerald Ash Borer Across the USA

The emerald ash borer is one of the most destructive non-native pests in North America, where it has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees. It has cost hundreds of millions of dollars for municipalities, property owners, nursery owners, and forest rangers to fight this pest. And it has put a dent in the production volume of something near and dear to many American’s heart; many baseball bats are (were) made from ash.

How to Save Trees From EAB

Once a tree is over 50% infected, it usually cannot be salvaged.

However, there is good news: EAB is treatable – but only if you treat it in time.

Ash trees should be treated as soon as there is an EAB infestation within 15-20 miles of the tree’s location.

The only way to control emerald ash borer is to kill it with one of several approved insecticides. The most effective treatment method is to inject an insecticide into the vascular system of the tree. From there, it spreads throughout the entire tree, protecting it from EAB and other destructive insects.

Other treatment options include using approved insecticides as a bark drench, or as a soil injection or drench.

Emerald ash borer treatments are applied in early to late spring, depending on the treatment used. Most treatments will need to be repeated at least every few years, although the interval varies depending on the insecticide used.

For best results, EAB treatments should be applied by a professional who has the specialized equipment and protective gear to do the job correctly

Don’t Want to Treat Your Ash Tree? Here’s What Will Happen

Unless treated, an ash tree in North Carolina will die within 5 to 10 years of EAB being found in the area. It’s not a matter of if it will die, it’s a matter of when.

Once they’ve infected an ash tree, emerald ash borers can kill it in as little as two years.

As an ash tree dies, it becomes brittle and dangerous. Dead ash trees are a serious hazard to the area around them, not only because they help spread EAB, but because of the risk of branches (or the entire tree) falling. While other types of dead trees can remain structurally sound for years, this is not the case for ash trees. In some cases, the entire top of a dead ash tree can fall, often without warning.

Removing Dead Ash Trees is a Dangerous Job

Beaver Tree crane removing dead treeOnce your ash tree is beyond the point at which it can be effectively treated, it should be removed as soon as possible.

Tree care professionals have been instructed to not climb ash trees during a removal because of the risks involved. Some tree care companies refuse to remove ash trees because of the dangerous nature of the brittle dry tree. They also may not have the skills or the tools available to do the removal correctly or safely, so be sure to ask lots of questions when deciding on a tree removal company.

At Beaver Tree Service, we have the heavy equipment and extensive safety training needed to safely remove dead ash trees. With an ISA Certified Arborist and a Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) on staff, we follow arboriculture best practices and always put safety first, ensuring that your property and anyone nearby are protected at all times.

Contact us about ash tree removal >>

How You Can Help Stop the Spread of EAB

Treat or remove your ash trees as soon as possible!

In North Carolina, if you suspect you may have EAB in your ash trees, please report the location and descriptions of potentially infested trees to (800) 206-9333 or newpest@ncagr.gov.

All of North Carolina is considered a “quarantine” area when it comes to EAB. That means that any ash product, including firewood, cannot be moved from a quarantined area to other areas. This is one of the reasons that using local firewood is so important.

More Information About EAB in North Carolina

Get Help For Your Ash Trees

Give us a call if you suspect your ash tree may be infected with EAB. We’ll be able to diagnose the problem and, if the tree is infested with EAB, we can determine whether it should be removed or can be treated. If treatment is an option, we can recommend a knowledgeable tree health expert in the Triad area who can treat the tree for you.