May 16

5 Common Tree Diseases in Indianapolis, IN



When you look at your trees growing strong and healthy in your yard, it is hard to imagine that they could ever be taken down by a disease. However, it is becoming more and more common for tree diseases to hit the Indianapolis area and when they do, they hit hard.

We can grow many different kinds of trees here, from fruit trees to gorgeous pines, and that means we see a variety of disease as well. Unfortunately, that variety means that new diseases get introduced all the time and the abundance means that it can be difficult to track them down. Your best bet as a homeowner is to look for some of the warning signs for tree diseases. Checking trees regularly means that you will be able to determine when something doesn’t look quite right.

Here are some of the common threats (and their warning signs) that face Indianapolis trees:

5. Emerald Ash Borer

Credit: USFS Region 5
  • Leaves and branches dying off quickly
  • Tunnels in the bark of the tree
  • Presence of the Emerald Ash Borer (see photo)

Though not technically a disease, it can certainly feel like one for tree owners. This pest brings many problems along with its destructiveness. In fact, it has killed tens of millions of ash trees all over the United States. The Emerald Ash Borer came to the US from Asia in packing materials, likely entering through Michigan.

The beetles eat away at the inside of the tree, infected it and making it difficult for nutrients and water to spread throughout. The result is a tree that is weakened and will die quickly. Indiana is under a quarantine, make sure to check out this resource to check for your back yard.

Right now, there are no cures for the problem, only ways to maintain the health of your tree. If you see any of the warning signs, it is recommended that you contact a professional right away.

4. Chestnut Blight

Leaves from a tree infected with Chestnut Blight.
Credit: James Bowe
  • Cankers form around the trunk of the tree
  • Orange-brown stains appear on the greenery
  • Root collars appear near the base of the tree

In the early 1900s, the American Chestnut Tree was almost killed off entirely by Chestnut Blight. From that point, there have been pockets of the disease all over the country and sometimes it has taken out quite large sections of trees. Chestnut Blight attacks the leaves and bark of trees, rendering it sick and unable to get nutrients. Spread by animals and insects, it is difficult to trace the disease once it leaves, but it has been known to spread quickly.

According to The American Phytopathological Society, the disease has been under control for quite some time. However, all it takes is one rogue outbreak and that could all change. The only way to control the disease once it has hit is through injections by a tree care professional.


3. Thousand Cankers Disease

Cankers formed by Thousand Canker Disease.

Credit: Scot Nelson
  • Presence of Walnut Twig Beetles
  • Yellowing leaves that droop quickly
  • Small holes appearing in the trunk

Thousand Cankers Disease is a disease that has only recently found its way to Indiana, but it is something to be incredibly aware of for homeowners who have black walnut trees. Transmitted via a fungus on the walnut twig beetle, it is spread through feeding on the bark. As it spreads, the bark dies off and prevents water and nutrients from getting to the tree. Eventually, it will die.

The disease is so terrifying that there are quarantines in place to try to stop the spread of the beetle so that the disease can be centered.

The best way to help your tree, according to is: “Once your tree is symptomatic, it will likely not recover; however, we recommend that you contact a tree care professional immediately to determine the best option for preventing further damage to your tree.”

2. Elm Disease

Dutch beetle, the spreader of Elm Disease.
Credit: E. Dronkert
  • Yellowing of leaves
  • The bark loses its color and starts to fall off
  • Dutch Beetle swarms around your trees

While shipping things has made our lives easier, it has also brought a whole host of new problems for trees. Elm Disease, like Chestnut Blight, came to the United States in the early 1900s. Shipping vessels brought Dutch Beetles into the Indianapolis area and those beetles brought Elm Disease with them. The disease enters the tree through root grafts and quickly overtakes the tree. It is somewhat scary because the disease only hits in the spring, so it can stay dormant for months, just waiting to attack it. In some cases, it can stay dormant for a few years, according to the USDA Forest Service.

Sadly, the only way to eliminate Elm Disease is to remove the tree. Your best bet is to learn about ways to prevent it if you want to plan elm trees in your yard.

1. Heart Rot

Characteristic sap from heart rot disease.

Credit: Brew Books
  • Fungus growing on the bark of the tree
  • Mushrooms near the base of the tree or under the canopy cover
  • Weakened branches and bark

One of the most common diseases facing trees in Indianapolis and all over is Heart Rot. This is an infection that can do significant damage. It goes after hardwood trees, in particular, something we have quite a few of here. The infection is hard to spot at first because it starts with the center of the tree. While this disease is most commonly talked about in association with certain fruit trees, it really is a problem for all kinds of trees.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, the disease comes after fungi move into “wounds from lawn mowers, weed whips, fire scars, deer rubbing, rodent chewing, frost cracks, broken branches and other injuries to access the sapwood and heart wood.”

Note that it is possible to treat heart rot, though it is complicated and needs to be done by a tree care professional. Treatment usually includes expert pruning to eliminate the wood and can require certain chemicals only available to certified professionals.

At the end of the day, your trees rely on you to be their eyes and protectors. They do their best to alert you that something is wrong, but you have to know how to read those signs. If you are worried about your trees having a disease, especially one of the diseases that are highly contagious, you should contact a tree care professional as soon as possible.

The team at Menchhofer Tree Care will immediately schedule an appointment to come inspect your trees. Based on what we find, we will come up with a plan of attack to nurse your tree back to health. If we can’t help you, we will explore cutting down the tree in a safe manner that will preserve the integrity of the other plants and trees you have.

Time is of the essence when it comes to reducing tree diseases, so give us a call at 1 (317) 661-4240 as soon as you suspect something.

Header photo courtesy of Randy McRoberts on Flickr!

Menchhofer Tree Care

About Steve Menchhofer

Steve Menchhofer has been caring for the trees of the Indianapolis, Indiana metro area for over 40 years. Steve and his team of experienced, certified arborists are members of the International Society of Arboriculture and the Indiana Arborist Association.

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