Archived Story

Pimpley trees ugly [UPDATED]

Published 7:00am Monday, December 24, 2012 Updated 9:01am Monday, December 24, 2012

Did your tree’s leaves look like it had pimples this summer?

Every year, someone comes into the Extension office with a leaf that is full of lumps, concerned that their tree is dying.

Don’t panic, the tree is fine, just the target of a miniscule insect.

These lumps or pimples on the bottom of the leaves are properly called galls. They are tree specific. In other words, an oak gall will not be found on a maple tree.

They can be found on any part of a plant, not just the leaves. Each species of insect, midge, moth or wasp, chooses a particular part of a plant to lay her eggs.

Scientists are not sure if the resulting gall is formed in response to the chewing action of the caterpillar or to chemical secretions produced by the insect. Whatever the cause, the result is a hard, usually round lump on the leaf or stem of the infected plant.

The insect encased in the gall will eventually tunnel its way out, usually in the spring, then start the whole process all over. How interesting that a tiny insect can force a tree or plant to build a home for its offspring.

Timing is very important for the egg layers as spring is generally the only time a plant or tree has the energy to spare to form galls.

While this doesn’t harm the tree or plant, it doesn’t provide any real benefit either.

If you pile leaves on your gardens, the developing insects inside the galls will hatch and provide food for the spring birds, reducing the “bug” load on your trees next spring.

While we are on the subject of trees, don’t bother to add anything but water to your live Christmas tree. It doesn’t need sugar, doesn’t drink 7-Up and bleach is just apt to discolor your carpet.

It will drink quite a bit the first few days in the house, so keep a close eye on it. If it does get dry, the stump will seal and won’t be able to take up water. This leads to needle drop and an unhappy house wife.

Those needles like to stick in the carpet fibers. She will be finding them until next Christmas.

Want an easy way to get the dead, shedding tree out of the house in January? Get your pruning shears sharpened up and simply cut off the branches starting from the top.

A bag of branches is much easier to haul through the house than a tree. Remember how much fun it was to get in the house to start with.

The cut off branches are great mulch over the tulips you planted next to the warm house foundation that insist on sprouting too early and getting frozen off. The naked stem can be a plant support next summer. It’s pretty ugly so hide it behind the house for now.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.

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