I have three lovely maple trees that we planted on the west side of the barn to eventually provide shade on hot summer afternoons. It has been about five years now, and they are growing well, but their lives were in the balance for the first few years.
The first spring after planting the trees, I began to notice cracks in the bark that over time began to peel back and allow the trunks to get infested with bugs. I found little holes bored into the trunks and was alarmed. I went to several nurseries to ask for help, and they had me spraying with pesticides, painting with tar, and wrapping with tape. Nothing seemed to help, and each spring the peeling progressed on all three trees. I really love trees and this was alarming to me that my beloved “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” were suffering and likely to die.
Finally, one day I was chatting with an acquaintance who is an actual Arborist, and he asked me if the peeling was taking place on the southwest side of the trunks. Yes, that is where it was happening! He said, “Then you probably have Southwest Disease.” What? Apparently, when you transplant a tree, you are to keep track of which side faced north and make sure to orient it the same way in the new location. This way, the bark is thickest where it needs to be to survive the harsh Michigan winters. Wrapping the trunks over the winters is about the best we can do to get them through the early years, once the damage has been done.
The happy news is that after five years, I think I can finally breath a sigh of relief for at least two of the trees. The wounds are healing themselves slowly but surely. Perhaps eventually the bare trunks will have completely scarred over so that they can protect themselves from the elements. The middle tree was always the worst off, and this spring was slow to sprout leaves. I feared it was a goner and toyed with the idea of cutting it down and planting a new one. Fortunately, I waited long enough and it caught up with the others. It will probably always be the weakest of the three, but I’ll let nature take its course and one day I’ll have forgotten they were ever in danger. I have trimmed the lower branches each year and now can stand under each of them without having to duck.
As I said, being a lover of trees, I get great joy standing in their shade and knowing that I adopted them and nurtured them to becoming their own grand, mature selves. I’ll always be mad about the ignorant tree nursery that did not know enough to take precautions when they planted my trees, but I can consider them “rescues” and take heart that the nursery went out of business. There is some justice, I guess.