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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 5 years ago

Tree IVs: a hope for Laurel wilt disease?

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Laurel wilt disease is killing bay trees all over Ormond Beach, but injecting fungicide may help slow the spread.

BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER

Bay trees in Ormond Beach are under attack.

Their attacker, Laurel wilt disease, has become a local epidemic, according to officials, spread by redbay ambrosia beetles, which are approximately 1/16 of an inch.

Once the trees have been infected, there’s little residents can do. However, Jeff Eberflus, owner of Toucan Lawn Care and Pest Control, says there are precautions.

Fungicidal treatments, injected either into the ground or directly into trees, can act as vaccinations, either saving a tree’s life or slowing the spread of the disease. Red bay trees, currently, are most susceptible to the disease, but as the population declines, silk bay, swamp bay and avocado trees can become greater targets.

Eberflus opts for direct injections, rather than deep root, stating that it's more effective and faster acting.

“You’re basically giving (the tree) the medicine that’s going to protect it,” he said. “And it’s because this product stays in the tree for (about) a year, it’ll have it in its system. So when you have that beetle that tries to get in there, it’s like having the antidote.”

Based on the tree's diameter, Eberflus drills a number holes into its trunk with a sterilized drill bit, and then he attaches small hoses connected to bottles containing a mix of fungicide and distilled water.

It’s a new process, he says, which gets virtually all of the fungicide directly into a tree, instead of  simply injecting chemicals into the ground in hopes that you'll hit a root. The process is also more environmentally friendly, he says.

Laurel wilt is spread by fungi carried in special pouches in the beetle’s head, and just one inoculation from one beetle is enough to infect a tree -- killing it within a week. As a result, it's the fungicidal injections, not insecticide, that is recommended.

The first signs of an infestation, according to John Whittin, owner of Choice Landscapers, are the bore holes left by beetles, followed shortly after by leaf wilting, which is often a sign that the damage is done.

“Some streets, its just going neighbor to neighbor to neighbor,” Whittin said. “If you're doing the preventative maintenance and your neighbors aren’t, its only a matter of time until the bugs come back.”

To reduce the number of beetles, the city recommends trees killed by the disease be chipped, not burned, and the remains should be covered with a tarp for one week, after which they can be used for landscaping or mulch.

Any untreated wood products from the dead trees, like logs or firewood, by law, cannot be moved more than 50 miles.

*This story has been modified from its original version.

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