Area oaks may face deadly disease

STEUBENVILLE — The Ohio Department of Agriculture is concerned a plant disease that’s wreaked havoc on California’s oak trees could do the same here in the Buckeye State.

ODA says Sudden Oak Death, a fungus-like organism, was detected on rhododendrons and lilacs shipped to Wal-Mart and Rural King stores throughout Ohio. Both retailers have agreed to initiate a voluntary recall of plants from their stores.

ODA Public Information Officer Brett Gates said at this point, it’s precautionary.

“It’s important to note SOD has not been found in Ohio’s native stock,” Gates said. “That’s why we’re getting the word out about the shipments coming in.”

He also said they’re “not entirely sure if the disease can establish itself in an area like Ohio, if it can (survive) in areas with a prolonged winter.”

ODA, however, isn’t taking chances.

“Obviously, we’re very concerned about it spreading to Ohio,” he said. “We’re taking every precaution to protect Ohio’s valuable resources,”

SOD is believed to already have killed more than 1 million oak and tanoak trees in California. Infected plants are quarantined.

ODA says about 1,600 rhododendrons from an infected nursery were shipped to Ohio and 16 other states. Alerts also have been issued for West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Gates said anyone who’s recently purchased a rhododendron from Wal-Mart or Rural King should monitor the plant for signs of disease, including leaf spots and shoot dieback.

Officials also suggest anyone who purchased rhododendrons or lilac plants from either retailer between March and May should dispose of them to prevent further spread of the disease — that means destroying them by burning, using a deep burial or double-bagging technique by encasing the root ball in heavy duty trash bags for disposal into a sanitary landfill, where allowable.

Consumers should not compost or dispose of the plant material in municipal yard waste, they said.

They added that any garden tools used on any affected plants should be sanitized with bleach or 91 percent or higher alcohol before they are used again.

For information, contact the Division of Plant Health at plantpest@agri.ohio.gov or by phone at (614) 728-6406.