Cedar-apple rust and quackgrass

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After a recent rain, I looked out the window at my row of eastern red cedars. They appeared to have some orange lumps on them and I went out to look. They are orange, slimy things that resembled starfish with sticky, hanging legs. The slimy jelly things came out of a little deformed, wooden ball attached to the tree. My friend said these are the tree’s flowers. It can’t be. What are these?

Yup, you’re right. It can’t be. Even in a Timothy Leary-LSD universe or Tim Burton surreal cartoon world, these aren’t flowers.

You are viewing the life and times of cedar-apple rust. This is a fungal disease that stays alive and happy by affecting two hosts. The name gives it away: cedar-apple rust. The other host is apples or crabapples.

The eastern red cedar has the deformed galls all year. In the spring, often following a warm rain, orange, gelatinous, cone-like projections called teliospores exude from the gall.

It doesn’t do much harm to most of the cedars. But the disease can be more damaging to apples and crabapples. When the spores end up on apple leaves, the leaves become infected. Yellow-orange spots develop on the tops of the leaves and a similar spot with tiny teliospores protruding, develop on the bottom. The tree may defoliate early from cedar apple rust. But around here, apple scab is usually a bigger leaf wrecker than cedar-apple rust.

If your orange, slippery aliens offend you, wait until the teliospores dry up and carefully pick off the galls. Then burn them or bury them. This will temporarily limit how many are on the trees. But spores float in the air and can travel about a mile, so you will get slimed again in future springs.

And for your educational enjoyment, eastern red cedars actually belong to the juniper family. The botanical name is Juniperus virginiana. They are native evergreens, found all along the eastern side of the U.S. The trees have fragrant reddish brown heartwood and the foliage takes on an unusual reddish tinge during the winter.

I have some kind of horrible tall grass that cannot be stopped. It is there all year and when you go to pull it up, it has long white runners that have new grass plants along them. The tips of the runners are sharp enough to go right through landscape fabric. I was told by a knowledgeable person that this is crabgrass but the crabgrass products will not stop it. Why don’t the products work?

It’s another case of mistake identity. Your annoying pest is quackgrass not crabgrass.

Quackgrass is a perennial grass that multiplies by seeds, if it can get tall enough, or by underground rhizomes. The rhizomes are long, sharp and aggressive. Crabgrass is an annual and grows like a rosette from a center point. Where the grass lies on the ground, it can root from the bottom of the grass shoot.

If you do not have the correct name for your pest, your treatment will not succeed. Quackgrass is extremely hard to control. There is no product made that will remove it from other grasses or plants. You can pull it up, spot treat it with an herbicide or cut clean, two to three inch deep edges at bed borders. Grasses will not grow over a cliff so by hand-edging a bed and leaving a clean, mulch-free trench, you can slow or stop it.

If you are a gardener in most of Michigan, you will battle this grass on many fronts. It will be in gardens and lawns. But knowing who your enemy is will give you a way of getting more information.

Contact Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator, at (517) 546-3950.

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.