The invasive beetle that will kill your ash trees

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Emerald Ash Borer beetle is smaller than a penny, but this invasive species is wreaking havoc on ash trees in Tennessee. We spoke to two experts on what you need to know.

Tim R. Phelps, the Communications & Outreach Unit Leader for the Tennessee Division of Forestry, gave us background on when the beetle made its appearance in Tennessee.

“It was first detected in Tennessee in 2010 in the Knoxville, Tennessee area. And ever since then, we’ve watched it sort of sweep from east to west and now we have these two new counties, Hickman and Dickson. And they are joining, for now, a total of 65 counties that we know it’s in.”

Firewood is how this beetle spreads from one county to another, which is why Hickman and Dickson counties have added to the quarantine for Emerald Ash Borer. The quarantine bars the movement outside the county of firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber, and other material that can spread the beetle.

Another way to prevent the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer is by purchasing heat-treated firewood. The heat treatment kills the larvae and helps to prevent the spread of this invasive species. 

The larval stage of the beetle is where the trouble begins. According to Phelps, “The larval stage of the beetle feeds on the inside of the bark. And the problem isn’t so much that, it’s the pattern of their feeding. They feed up and down the bark, but eventually, they chew all the way around it and essentially girdles the tree, strangles it in a sense. Chokes it from water getting up and nutrients getting down.”

In addition to distinct, d-shape exit holes, there are other signs of an infestation Phelps said to watch out for.

“You’ll start to see die-back in the crown. So the very top of the crown, you’ll start noticing dead branches. And that, over a two or three year period, will progress down and eventually kill the whole tree.”

At Cheekwood they are working to protect their 200 ash trees with chemical pesticide treatments and observation. We spoke to Peter Grimaldi, VP of Gardens, and Facilities at Cheekwood, about how they are protecting these historic trees and how you can protect your ash trees.

If you have an ash tree on your property, Grimaldi said you have two options. “First, ask yourself, how important is this tree to me? And then it’s a simple economic question. Do I treat this tree for a couple hundred bucks a year in perpetuity or do I pay two to eight thousand dollars to have it removed in the next couple of year?”

More information on what to do with your ash trees is available here. More on the current spread of the Emerald Ash Borer in Tennessee can be found here.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

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