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A Slow Goodbye To Claret Ash Trees In Canberra

By tylersmayhem - 8 January 2009 23

While this topic will be of little interest to some, as a keen gardener I though other “green thumbers” might be interested.

We recently bought a house in the Belconnen area, and one of the many positive aspects of the property were the beautiful mature trees.  The main two are a Red Gum and a Claret Ash.  When I recently had the gum cleaned up by an arborist (EcoTrees, Adam was brilliant), he said while the gum is coping fairly well, the Claret Ash will sadly be gone well within 4 or 5 years.  He explained that it was suffering from dieback from the top down, which is caused by a disease in the tree.  He went on to say that the problem has no cure, and it is sadly a problem happening all across Canberra.

Not long after, I was having a chat to my brilliant neighbour, and he told me about a sick Claret Ash thay once had at a previous property.  Him and a mate spent a day cutting the tree right back to about a third of it’s size and height – so it was pretty much a long stump sticking out of the ground.  While his wife was horrified at the time, they were both stoked a year of so later when it came good and grew back to a healthy tree.

I came across and interesting article on Google (pdf), written by Samantha Titheradge.  It explains a little more about the problem – but I am keen to hear about anyone else’s experiences with this unfortunate problem that is specific to Canberra.

Last weekend I hacked the majority of the tree back,  which was painful to do, and it now looks horrible.  I’m hoping my neighbours luck passes on to us.  I still have about 2 metres of the main trunk to cut back this weekend.  Giving the arms and legs a rest before attempting to hack through the trunk with a bush saw – I don’t have the experience or confidence to operate a chainsaw 6 or so metres up a tree!

Thoughts, experiences, suggestions my fellow RA’ers?

What’s Your opinion?

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23 Responses to
A Slow Goodbye To Claret Ash Trees In Canberra
s-s-a 12:28 pm 09 Jan 09

The claret ash which shades half our north-facing front yard appears perfectly healthy (touch wood). Not bad considering it got a good scorching in the 03 bushfires and dropped half its leaves. I have no idea how old it is – the house is 35y.

It has spawned a baby – not sure whether from seed or sucker – which I plan to move either this coming winter or next year.

mother of many 11:46 am 09 Jan 09

I read many years ago that the Claret Ash is a ‘sport’ or mutation of the usual kind, which spontaeously appeared at a nursery outside Adelaide. The nursery owner realised he was on to a winner, so attempted to propagate this new form – but was only successful in propagating cuttings from this tree, making ALL Claret Ash clones of the original sport.

Unfortunately the Claret Ash is not long-lived, the information I had specifically pinning this to a genetic weakness in the original mutation, which has thus been propagated in its commercial clones.

You may indeed be able to regenerate the main canopy; but I suspect that this new canopy will also die off in another seven or so years.

In my own front yard, I have planted a wisteria at the base of my nearly-dead Claret Ash. I am training it up the trunk in the hopes that I will end up with a “Wisteria Tree”, and will then not need to worry about having the Claret Ash removed…

Granny 11:02 am 09 Jan 09

Yeah, I’ll do it Tylers! How hard can it be?

: D

peterh 10:51 am 09 Jan 09

tylersmayhem said :

Cheers for all the advice you guys – some great points. In the meantime, if anyone knows someone good with a chainsaw who’d climb up a 5-6m tree to cut some trunk down, please let me know. It would only be a 15 minute job really, so I’m not really keen on paying an arborist $100 for some basic cuts.

might I suggest you get a fungicide treatment spray as well? once the cutback is complete, might be worth a spray to prevent reinfection.

tylersmayhem 10:48 am 09 Jan 09

Cheers for all the advice you guys – some great points. In the meantime, if anyone knows someone good with a chainsaw who’d climb up a 5-6m tree to cut some trunk down, please let me know. It would only be a 15 minute job really, so I’m not really keen on paying an arborist $100 for some basic cuts.

miz 9:15 pm 08 Jan 09

Oops – I see one of these is the same as the one you found, ty.

miz 9:11 pm 08 Jan 09

Some info here about dieback:


Ash trees are also susceptible to scale, which ants love – they farm the bnggers. If you see ants going up and down the tree, it has funny little brown bumps on its branches and the trunk is sooty, it is infested with scale. Putting ant sand around the base helps a lot Even better,if you can get your hands on a horticultural glue to put round the trunk, even better. (I have tried to get the glue – ‘tanglefoot’ – but can’t find anywhere).

peterh 5:27 pm 08 Jan 09

thanks ozphoenix.

tylers, the dieback could be attributed to stress, or a variant of the black rot fungus.

pruning is a good idea, as long as the tree doesn’t reinfect itself with the fungus.

OzPhoenix 5:15 pm 08 Jan 09

peterh said :

does anyone have a photo of a claret ash? no idea if i have ever seen one.

Mr Evil 5:07 pm 08 Jan 09

Tylers, I’d speak to someone at a plant nursery about whether you should be giving the remains of the claret ash a good feed with some fertiliser to give it a good boost and increase the chances of it making a good comeback.

peterh 4:51 pm 08 Jan 09

does anyone have a photo of a claret ash? no idea if i have ever seen one.

astrojax 4:08 pm 08 Jan 09

my big sister and bro-in-law were in town post-new year and were stunned by the size of a claret ash in disckson, which we wandered past walking the dog. he said, ‘they don’t grow that big’. but clearly, they do!

there are many in my area, both street trees and in gardens, but knowing this tree for a while i hadn’t thought it was particularly large. not every day claret ashes make for conversation twice in a week..!

sorry to hear of yours’ demise, tylers.

tylersmayhem 3:55 pm 08 Jan 09

Hi Reprobate – it sounds like a different problem (almost less serious) that your tree has. The main symptom that my tree has is dieback from the top down. The leaves and branches are brown as opposed to green at the top, and the bottom half of the tree healthy and green. On closer inspection up in the canopy there are kind of weird bulging/gaping splits through the bark into the main wood. These are in different spots on the trunk and branches.

Reprobate 3:31 pm 08 Jan 09

Interesting. I have a big 20+ yo claret ash smack bang in the middle of my backyard, and in autumn I noticed the dead leaves had a white spotty growth/residue on them. Not being an avid gardener, I didn’t give it much thought beyond then. The tree still looks ok as far as I can see, even the top of it (viewed from my front yard). Is the white powder (no Columbian marching powder or suspect envelope jokes please) a sign of that particular disease?

Granny 2:56 pm 08 Jan 09

That’s kind of sad, Tylers. I love the claret ashes in Canberra. It just wouldn’t be a proper Autumn without them.

It would be good if they could find out the reason for the dramatic increase in the disease. I wonder what is causing it to spread so quickly all of a sudden.

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