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The tallest tree in DeeAnn Grummetts yard has fallen prey to one of the smallest animals in the forest.
Spruce needle aphids attacked Grummetts 100-foot tree, and many others around Juneau, in the worst infestations seen in recent years. The tiny green insects, the size of this o, kill trees by sucking juice from the needles. Trees under 25 feet can die after a single year of aphids.
Several weeks ago Grummett noticed the spruce trees in her yard were looking sickly.
The needles were brown and falling off the tree in extensive sections of the tree, said Grummett, who called the Juneau Cooperative Extension.
Shes worried she could lose the tree she and her husband have watched from their living room for 18 years.
You hate to lose any tree really, but especially an older, large, beautiful tree, Grummett said. Its kind of the centerpiece of our yard, because its the habitat for lots of birds and squirrels. We would just be sick if we lost that tree.
Many spruce trees could be lost to the aphid infestation, which is the most severe that Cooperative Extension Agent Jim Douglas has seen. Hes had calls from all over Juneau.
This looks like it may be the worst weve had, said Douglas, who has seen several large spruce trees killed by aphids in the past.
The aphids have appeared occasionally since at least 1932. They tend to appear after mild winters, like the last two, Douglas said.
What were really praying for is lousy weather, Douglas said.
Several days of frigid weather over the winter would kill most of the aphids, Douglas said.
Our major attack on these guys is cold weather, Douglas said. We really depend on Mother Nature to come in and kill these guys.
In case La Nia hangs around another year, continuing the mild weather, Douglas suggests tree owners treat affected spruces with ACE Caps. The capsules contain acephate and are implanted into the trunks between November and January. The insecticide is then carried up the tree with the rising sap by the time the aphids start arriving in February.
The capsules have less risk than spray-on pesticides, which can drift into neighboring yards or pollute streams and wildlife, Douglas said.
Trees also should be fertilized in the spring to strengthen them against the aphid attacks, he said.
It may kill some individual trees, but an individual tree in the forest is not like your prized possession in your front yard, said Neil Hagadorn at the US Forest Service. Its not of epidemic proportions for the Tongass forest.