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Don’t Panic, It’s Organic: What to do if your trees have bark beetles

Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
7:51 am PDT June 15, 2017

Understand the law of cause and effect. The bark beetle is the effect, and not the cause.

So what is the cause? Trace mineral deficiency.

Reduced water flow always equals reduced mineral flow. Reduced minerals are always followed by an increase in pests and diseases. Soil without the proper microbes always equals trees/plants lacking in certain trace mineral. What is more important to a tree: nitrogen or minerals? Chemical fertilizer companies believe it is nitrogen, so they make sure their fertilizers are all high nitrogen based. Urea in nature is less than 2 percent nitrogen while man-made urea is 45 percent nitrogen! Yes, nitrogen makes things grow fast, but they are stressed out and weak.

So the cause here is a complex one — one that is entirely human-made. The drought caused us to use the ground water which trees have relied upon during drought times like these, and the lack of water in the right place is also causing stress. Top that off with the fact we have destroyed the topsoil. Adding chemical fertilizer to make that lawn of yours lush and green has produced a dead soil environment — one that is stressing out the trees.

High stress always equals high pests and is always followed by diseases. All diseases are soilborne. They are in the soil but under control by the beneficial bacteria. Change or kill off the good guys, and the bad guys move in! It is better to underwater than to overwater, and better to use a drip system for the trees than overhead sprinklers.

Many folks have trees surrounded by lawns. They water the lawn almost daily (many do four or five minutes a day) while trees prefer once a week (if you have bad soil) or twice a month (if you have good soil). The high nitrogen fertilizer that your gardener uses on the lawn, while you may think it is good for the lawn (it isn’t), it certainly is not good for the trees.

Folks also seem to think that just watering the lawn it is enough for the trees.

Do you remember a few months ago, after all that rains we had when a Santa Ana came along, and many trees toppled over, laying sideways with the roots up in the air? That would never have happened if the trees were deeply watered. Their roots would have been deep and not shallow.

So if you’re just watering your lawn and not the tree, your tree will die sooner rather than later.

You should have two separate watering systems: one for the lawn that uses the overhead sprinkler (make sure they do not hit the trunk of the tree — think if you walked around all day with wet socks in your shoes) and one separate system for the trees which should get anywhere from half an hour to two hours drip once or twice a month.

It is not a good idea to have a lawn around your trees unless the lawn is organically fertilized. Then it is perfect, and the watering for the lawn will not adversely affect the tree. Organic lawn fertilizers come with soil microbes and some trace minerals. Organic lawns require less weekly watering then chemically grown lawns. They do well once-twice weekly waterings in which they water is soaking into the lawn with no runoff.

Trees also require different organic fertilization than lawns do. They do not like high nitrogen. As I stated before, high nitrogen actually inhibits mineral intake and absorption. Organic lawn fertilizers are not high nitrogen based.

So pay attention to your trees’ needs, and you and your trees will be much happier for it.

But what do you do if you think there is something wrong with your trees?

First, find out from a tree arborist. He or she will be able to tell you what the problem is and what they would do. They always use chemical pesticides to kill the borer and to prevent them from coming back. You all know I am not a supporter of these chemicals, but you may have no other choice unless you are willing to tackle the problem yourself since there are no organic arborists. Try Google and then ask the arborist if he or she can do it without using the chemicals. Tell the arborist that you want to use Orange oil like Orange TKO or XT2000. XT2000 is used on termites and is also registered for tree borer control, and you must be a pest control operator to use. The OrgangeTKO is an organic orange oil that will work as well if you were to use it yourself. The oil is basically injected with a needle through the bored hole in the trunk. The orange oil will kill the borer and its eggs on contact. You also spray the orange oil onto the trunk of the tree to prevent any more attacks. I use 50 percent Orange TKO and 50 percent mineral oil, and I spray that around the lower part of the trunk. You can also paint it on. You should do this only once and then look for signs of any new bore holes with dust showing up. If that happens, treat those also.

How is the tree being watered? Install tree vents (pipes that allow the water to go down). I use clay drain pipes about 1-foot deep. Clay is paramagnetic. Turn drip on and see how fast the water goes down the pipe. Watch the time, and when it starts to overflow, that’s the length of time to water. You will increase this over time.

Inside the vents, add rock dust, compost and mulch. Add an organic fertilizer with microbes.

Foliar spray the tree monthly with a mineral rich, bacterial rich compost tea.

Any questions? Email me at My new book, “Don’t Panic It’s Organic,” is now available on my website or in any bookstore.