Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print
DEAR JESSICA: My husband and I live in Hampton Bays and our property is adjacent to the power lines along the railroad tracks. We have lost, or are in the process of losing, all of our big, old pitch pine trees to the ravages of the Southern pine beetle. PSEG came here last month and removed four trees that were a possible threat to the power lines, but left many dead trees still standing. Our backyard looks like a war zone. We are wondering if you might be able to suggest a fast-growing, inexpensive evergreen that is impervious to the beetles' appetites. Our property was a partially wooded half-acre, and we would like to find something indigenous to the area to replace our loss.
-- Jamie Holthaus,
DEAR JAMIE: The Southern pine beetle, one of the most destructive bark beetles, made its first appearance in New York State last year -- on the South Shore -- and the Pine Barrens' "signature pitch pine resource is seriously threatened by this newly discovered, non-native insect," Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said at the time in a news release. The beetle, native to the South, as its name implies, is considered by the DEC to be one of the most destructive forest pests in the country.
Adult beetles bore into tree bark, where females create wide, S-shaped tunnels along which to lay their eggs. When eggs hatch, larvae eat their way out of the tunnels and bore shotgun-type exit holes in bark. Most infested trees die within a couple of months.
Pitch pines are the pest's preferred host in New York, but all pine trees are susceptible, and the DEC warns that hemlocks and spruce may be affected, too.
You should remove the dead and dying trees, as they emit an odor that attracts more beetles. Healthy, vigorous trees are not as likely to be attacked, so aim to keep trees healthy by watering during dry spells, fertilizing annually with a 3-1-1 product and removing broken branches; but don't prune unnecessarily. Cornell University advises removing dead or cut trees from the area immediately, grinding stumps below soil level and covering with soil.
I reached out to Mina Vescera, nursery/landscape specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, for recommendations of non-susceptible evergreen replacements for your pitch pines.
Here are her suggestions (spp. denotes the availability of more than one species):
Cedrus spp. (cedar)
Chamaecyparis spp. (false cypress)
Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar)
Ilex spp. (holly)
Juniperus spp. (juniper)
Thuja spp. (arborvitae)
Taxodium distichum (bald cypress)
Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwood)