HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT VERTICILIUM WILT

April 28, 2016: When I was growing up, my father and I never had a serious conversation about verticilium wilt. We had other conversations, which I'm sure he felt were more important, but we never talked about that. I do not blame him for I never had the same conversation with my child. I guess as parents we rationalize by thinking it's not that important or its too delicate a topic, and let the moment, which may never return again, pass by. They will figure it out on their own we think. And some day they will, but wouldn't it have been nice if we could have prepared them for it.

If I had that moment back again, here's the conversation I would have:

FATHER : Sit down a minute, kid. I want to have a talk and I think you're old enough now that you'll understand. Is that OK?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: You're growing up so fast! Soon you'll be leaving home to start a life of your own. You may have a garden, some property or perhaps just a nearby park, but it is my hope that you will find and fall in love with trees. Love is what makes us human. It gives us the potential to really see ourselves and the potential of others. Where there is the warmth, light and life of love, there is also the darker opposite lurking -cold, dark, death - the two sides of a coin. It is a fact that we must acknowledge but not necessarily dampen that which makes us human. If you happen to fall in love with one of more than 350 species of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials or vegetable crops, then that dark side may well come in the form of verticilium wilt, a disease that can cripple and often kill a plant.

I know this is disturbing to hear , but it's really important to both of us that you understand. I'd like to tell you how this might happen and what are the signs that it may be coming. Is that OK?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: Verticilium wilt is a fungus disease that lives in the soil. It can live unseen and undetected by mortal eye for up to 14 years in the soil. It invades a plant through the roots and will travel to the xylem, the water conductive tissue of the plant. There it will grow and flourish and block water conduction to the leaves. It causes the leaves to wilt and die, which leads to branch dieback and eventually crown death. As leaves die, the roots that supply them die for lack of food. In trees, this process can go on for several years before tree death can occur.

There are a number of other diseases and environmental disorders that can cause branch dieback. One of the ways to identify that V. wilt is taking place is to slice a newly wilted twig diagonally. You will see olive-brown, brown or black streaks in the sapwood (the last few rings of growth).

(Father sighs. Wipes some moisture from his eye and looks away out the window)

I once had a big leaf maple I was very fond of. It was old and venerable and shaded the yard. We had a summer that was very, very dry followed by a very, very wet winter and the next spring I found some dead Sapwood streaksSapwood streaksbranches in my beloved. The next summer over half the branches died and that winter it blew over taking out a chunk of the garage There was little in my power I could do, except repair the garage.

Once a tree has verticilium, there are no effective treatments for it. One can prolong or temporarily reduce the effect by watering the tree during droughts but there is no un-inevitabling the inevitable. Does that make sense?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: Here in the Pacific Northwest it is our maples, elms, ashes and cherries that are some of the most susceptible. In my opinion verticilium is everywhere in the soil. It can't be avoided. Healthy, relatively stress free trees seldom show signs of it so reducing drought stress or overly soggy soils can help where practical. If replacing a verticilium killed tree, do not put another susceptible species back. You're just asking for heart ache then.

I guess what I'm saying is that the things we love will eventually die. Let not the hurt of that keep you from loving.

Hey! HEY! Will you please take your Ipod earbuds out! I don't understand how you can hear a word I'm saying!

KID: Whatever.

FATHER: Well, I'm glad we had this little talk. Love you, now.

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