City of Chattanooga tries to root out potentially costly tree problem
UPDATE (June 5):
The city of Chattanooga has contracted a company to treat more than 500 trees infested with Lecanium Scales. See more here.
PREVIOUSLY (May 9):
Hundreds of downtown Chattanooga trees that should be turning green this time of year are starting to turn yellow.
The condition is called chlorosis.
The oaks are not getting the nutrients they need, making them more susceptible to insects and making it more likely that taxpayers have to spend a lot of money to replace them.
City Forester Gene Hyde says the "streetscaping" that revitalized the downtown area may now be creating the problem.
He has noticed that trees neatly surrounded by bricks and concrete just aren't growing like the others.
"They languish, they start to fade away, they die out, and then I've got to replace them," Hyde told NewsChannel 9.
Hyde says those bricks are sitting on top of a bed of limestone sand that he believes is raising the pH of the soil around the trees and keeping them from absorbing nutrients.
"Sooner or later, it's going to be a dollar and cent issue," said Hyde. "We'll have to use taxpayer dollars to treat this and try to solve the problem."
The trees are under stress, attracting insects like Lecanium Scales.
Up close, you can see that the branches are covered in bumps, which are full of the bug's eggs.
"As soon as they hatch, they'll be sucking the juices out of the tree," said Hyde.
They feed off the trees and excrete a sticky liquid called "honeydew" that can drip onto cars.
Nick Mullins, the Reconditioning Manager at Kelly Subaru, is familiar with it.
"It's kind of a clear, brownish fluid," said Mullins. "It looks like it'd come off easy. It doesn't."
His team hasn't had to detail customers' cars. They've had to detail their own.
"We had trees around our lot and it was coming down on the new cars," said Mullins.
He says with a lot of elbow grease, they can clean up the cars.
"It's a mess, but what are you going to do? It's Mother Nature," said Mullins.
That's a question Hyde is still working to answer.
"You don't want these things looking shabby for Pete's sake," said Hyde. "We want the downtown to be vibrant and beautiful."
A company out of Knoxville, TIPCO, is doing an experiment on some of the downtown Chattanooga trees to find a product that could lower the soil pH.
The trees they are testing have numbered silver tags.
The city is not paying for that experiment, but the Public Works Department is also in the process of getting bids to treat the trees with insecticide.
However, Hyde says he is hoping to find another insect he could introduce into the downtown ecosystem to naturally fight the bug problem.
Replacement expenses would cost about $300 a tree.
The total amount of trees impacted is about 500. They are located on both Broad and Market Streets between M.L. King Boulevard and Aquarium Way. The other infested area is on Riverfront Parkway at Ross's Landing.