Dutch Elm Disease
Let me begin by saying that I am no horticulturist. If you don’t believe me on this, you need only ask one of my neighbors who have witnessed the "Shock and Awe" campaign I’ve conducted against all of the vegetation inside my property line. Well, not all of the vegetation—the weeds are doing very well, thank you—it’s just the grass and decorative plants I’ve managed to wipe out with surgical precision. As a matter of fact, the only things in my yard that would even cause someone to think that I could pick a horticulturist out of a police line up are my wife’s prize rose bushes and my shade trees.
I call the trees mine although the only involvement I’ve had with them is handing huge checks over to a professional arborist who tells me how beautiful the trees are and then hacks them beyond recognition. Nevertheless, the trees always grow back beautifully and give me a shady place to sit on my deck and ponder how I’m ever going to be able to afford to have them pruned again. Even greater than the pleasure I get from the trees’ shade is the pleasure I get from the way they annoy my neighbors. You see, I have those unique neighbors who are retired and have nothing better to do than mow their lawn 6 or 7 times a day. They’ve genetically engineered their trees to never drop any leaves just so that in the 15 minutes between mowings, nobody will ever see a stray leaf on their lawn. Needless to say, they become rather upset when an occasional gust of wind blows a stray leaf from one of my trees onto their lawn. They even went so far as to mention when I moved in that the neighborly thing to do would be to have both of my larger trees removed. I responded to this by tearfully explaining that my wife and I were druids—harming a tree would be an act of sacrilege and I was deeply saddened to see that we were still not safe from the religious persecution that drove us out of Arlington Heights. This would have been much more believable if my wife wasn’t in the process of angrily pulling out about 2000 ugly hostas the previous owners had planted and then stomping on them with maniacal glee.
I knew I was in trouble when one of the aforementioned neighbors cautiously approached our electrified fence with a look of barely-restrained jubilation. He pointed up at my American Elm and said "Those tree-trimmers down the block were looking at your tree." "Of course they were", I responded, "It’s beautiful." He shook his head in mock sadness. "They say it’s got Dutch Elm disease. It’s gotta come down." He stifled a giggle. "They’re mistaken", I said, "It’s an American Elm." My neighbor then pointed to some dying branches and yellowing leaves near the top, then clicked his heels together and ran happily into his house like the crusty old coot from the classic westerns who discovers the gold mine.
I decided it was time to do some research. My first stop was the plant information office at the local botanic garden. I learned that yes, in fact, American Elms were very susceptible to the disease and that my options were not very attractive. My first option was to use some kind of pesticide/fungicide mix that is technically classified as a weapon of mass destruction and could result in, at the least, economic sanctions being taken against me by every nation in the U.N. (except for France). The second option is something called "Radical Pruning", which is a polite way of saying "A big stick in the ground is almost as nice as a tree" and finally, the third option is the total destruction of the tree, including grinding the stump and burning the sawdust. The advantage of the last one is that it is almost 70% effective in treating the disease, where as the other two options have been proven clinically to be only slightly more effective than hiring a mariachi band to serenade the tree every night until first frost.
I called my arborist over for an official opinion, and he had tears in his eyes when he declared that the tree was beyond his help. I had tears in my eyes when I looked at his estimated cost to remove it. My wife went out to say her own tearful goodbye to the tree, then she and I spent the better part of our evening sharing memories about our beloved tree and trying to figure out how we would ever replace it. You might see us at a nursery or plant sale--we'll be the ones looking for something really big…With lots of big leaves that will look good on our neighbor’s lawn.