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Getting Ready for EAB

WCROC Horticulture Scientist Steve Poppe inspect trees planted in a gravel bed at the West Central Research and Outreach Center. About 100 trees of a dozen different species are being grown.

Even people who remember how Dutch Elm Disease decimate urban landscapes in the 1970s might not believe the devastation that experts say will be left once the Emerald Ash Borer invades.

EAB has already made its way into states to the east and southeast of Minnesota and it's wiping out millions of ash trees, sparing almost none in areas that have been hit, said Steve Poppe, Horticulturist at the West Central Research and Outreach Center.

Ash trees were a popular replacement tree for the elms that were felled by Dutch Elm Disease, so roughly 60 percent of urban trees in the state are some variety of ash, Poppe said, noting that while EAB hasn't made it to West Central Minnesota, it's just a matter of time.

"It's inevitable, unfortunately," Poppe said, "and it takes out everything. They're comparing it to a tornado going through your town."

Morris is one town getting ready.

Through a University of Minnesota grant, the city is one of six in Minnesota that has established gravel beds in which about 100 trees of about a dozen species are being grown for transplanting later in areas in town. It's part of a project that also includes a tree survey, which is nearing completion, that is expected to provide researchers and the city some idea what the financial toll of EAB might be.

City and WCROC workers built the gravel bed and "planted" the trees. The bed is monitored for moisture and temperature and an automated watering system is expected to be installed, Poppe said.

"It's a neat collaboration between the city and (the WCROC)," Poppe said.

Jay Fier, a member of the city's Tree Board, said the city and WCROC will use the bed to measure root growth and also see which trees are adaptable.

Right now, the system won't be a money-saver. The trees are about the same price as those with wrapped root balls or planted in containers. But that could change depending on the results, Fier said.

"Part of the experiment is to see if the trees can winter-over in the bed," Fier said. "If they can grow in that medium for more than one season, then we could get smaller trees and leave them in there for two or three years to develop a root structure. Then it could truly, economically, be a good thing."

Fier said Morris has a reputation for devoting time and resources on its trees, and it's part of the reason the city was chosen to receive the U of M grant. That will be a needed attribute in the future, Poppe said.

"Morris is being proactive on Emerald Ash Borer and the devastation of losing all its ash trees," Poppe said. "They're developing a system where they could create a nursery to replace these trees."