If your tree's branches are looking a little sparse and its trunk has become pitted and fungus-laden, then there's a good chance it is suffering from a fungal infection known as armillaria root rot. This condition infects and kills trees throughout the United States, and although there's nothing you can do to save the life of your tree once symptoms set in, it is important that you know how to handle the diseased tree properly.

Diagnosing Armillaria Root Rot

Usually, the first symptom of this disease is branch dieback. Since this symptom is nonspecific, and can be caused by a wide array of fungal infections, it is not until symptoms start appearing in the stem that armillaria root rot is typically diagnosed. The fungus that causes the disease lives in the tree's roots. When it eventually becomes so abundant that it starts working its way up the lower trunk of the tree, brown fungal mats start appearing on the lower stem. They may eventually take on a powdery white appearance. Brackets, or mushroom-like fungi, also start sprouting up from the roots that are closest to the surface.

The fungus prevents the tree from properly sending water and nutrients up its trunk. Thus, more and more branches keep dying from lack of nutrition, and eventually the entire tree succumbs to the disease. The smaller the tree, the faster it will be overtaken by the fungus. By the time trunk symptoms appear, the tree is generally within a year or two of death.

If you're not sure whether your tree is suffering from armillaria root rot or some other disease, it pays to have a tree care expert like Hodgson's Expert Tree Service come look at it. Trees with armillaria root rot will have to be taken down, but if the tree has another disease, you might be able to save it.

Managing Armillaria Root Rot

Once you have confirmed that your tree does in fact have this condition, you'll need to have it removed from your property. Armillaria root rot is quite contagious, and as long as your tree is alive, you are giving the fungi a place to replicate, so they can then spread to other trees.

If you're planning on felling the tree yourself, make sure you also burn the stump. Spraying the stump with a chemical fungicide, such as chloropicrin or methyl bromide, is also wise. Most tree care companies will come spray a stump for you, even if you have taken the tree down yourself.

Wood from higher up in the tree can be stored for later use, but the lower wood, which will have a soft, squishy texture due to the presence of fungus, should be burned quickly to eliminate the fungi.

Deadly armillaria root rot can infect hundreds of species of trees. Thus, it is important to eliminate trees that have this disease in order to protect others on your property and in your neighborhood.