Why are all my Blue Spruce Dying?

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

One of the most common tree questions we get is, “Why don’t you sell blue spruce at your tree sales?”

It is no coincidence. Most conservation districts avoid blue spruce on purpose! In Michigan, there are many factors that compete against the tree and have caused survival rate to drop.

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) were widely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, being one of the more popular landscape and backyard trees planted. Due to that “overuse”, many diseases and pests associated with blue spruce have also flourished.

The tree is not native to Michigan or much of the east coast. Colorado Blue Spruce is, to no surprise, native to Colorado and much of the west mountainous region of the U.S. It likes dry weather and sandy soil. Much of lower MI has heavier soils and lay. These poorly drained soils hold in water, keeping tree roots wet. In general, blue spruce do better in nutrient-poor and well-drained soil. Poorly drained soils stress the trees and welcome pests and disease.

Many of the blue spruce around my house are in sandy soil, they are still dying. The trees are dropping needles fast- this is due to one of several needle-cast diseases. The disease lives on the current year’s shoots and, the following year, the needles will shed leaving the branch bare.

Canker disease can be identified by the presence of excessive sap over the trunk and base of the tree. This is caused by a fungi (who thrive in wet weather). Three common ones are Phomopsis, Cytospora, and Diplodia.

It is easy for insects to colonize and thrive on an already stressed tree. Gall adelgids suck plant sap on the young plant shoots and create gulls that will deform the tree. Spruce spider mites cause the needles to discolor and fall off. Sometimes this can be confused with needle-cast.

If you have blue spruce in your yard, it is almost certain they will eventually feel the effect of one of these pests and ultimately die prematurely. Trimming the dead and diseased branches can help slow the spread of infestation. I usually burn the branches in my fire pit so whatever pest is on them will not continue to live as they would if I threw them in a brush pile. Unfortunately, there are no real silver bullet to fixing failing blue spruce trees. Arborists or landscapers can spray them, but it is costly and depending on the site and soil conditions, treatment may not help.

By replacing your trees with conifer species that are more suited for Michigan climate, soils, and weather. We have several species available at our fall native plant and tree sale this year. Ordering can be done by phone, walk-in, or website until September 20th. Limited quantities of trees and quart size native plants will be available for sale at pick-up day on Friday, October 4th at Smith Hall-Clinton County fairgrounds from 12-6.

More information on your poor blue spruce trees can be found in a great MSU Extension article:  What is Spruce Decline & What Should You Do About It – MSU Extension

Invasive Japanese knotweed: Now is a great time to spot it

Erin Pavloski, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator, Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, erin.jarvie@macd.org

It’s September and the time of year that invasive knotweed is in bloom. Now is a great time to spot Japanese knotweed and report it to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN, miss-UN). You help the Mid-Michigan CISMA by reporting to MISIN using the smartphone app, or online at www.misin.msu.edu

Japanese knotweed in bloom, Clinton County (9-3-2019)

Japanese knotweed, also known as “Michigan bamboo,” is a perennial, herbaceous shrub. It can invade a wide variety of habitats and tolerate different soils. This invasive species can spread by plant fragments, so it is important to not mow, cut, till, or dig this plant during its active season. Still not sure how to properly identify Japanese knotweed? Click HERE to do a brief training module.

The Mid-Michigan CISMA is funded in part by the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program (www.michigan.gov/invasives)

Michigan, the great lakes state?

Resource links provided at the end of this article.

Water Resources Coordinator, Seth Gibson

When you think of the State of Michigan, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? While some of you may automatically think of ‘Better Made’ potato chips or superman ice cream, most of you probably think of our richest natural resource, water. The cold, deep waters of Lake Superior all the way to the warm, shallows of Lake Erie and every little stream and county drain in between that help make Michigan the freshwater capital of the world. People even refer to us as “The Great Lakes State” due to our land mass making contact with five out of six Great Lakes. But are we really the great, lakes state?

To sum up the current state of our water quality in one word, it’s crappy. The Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy sets thresholds for activities under certain concentrations of E. coli in the water. The threshold for total body contact is 300 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 mL of water and partial body contact is 1000 cfu per 100 mL of water. This means that once you have a concentration of 300 cfu or greater you shouldn’t swim or do activities where you come into direct contact with the water, and at 1000 cfu you should avoid things such as boating and swimming, and, generally, don’t touch the water at all. The fact that water samples taken from Michigan waterways routinely come back over 1000 cfu with several sites averaging (30 day geomean) well over the partial body contact standard, should make any resident that utilizes Michigan’s waterways angry. Even more surprisingly, DNA analysis on samples have determined that a large portion the E. coli is human sourced.  Due to the nature of E. coli and the sampling results, the best explanation for the concentrations of it in rivers and streams is failing septic systems.

This is largely because Michigan is the only state in the country without some kind of enforceable standard that septic systems must be held to. Yes, you read that correctly, the state with a majority of our country’s fresh water does not require on-site wastewater treatment systems to be maintained. While some counties manage them on a local level, only a handful of Michigan’s 83 counties have instated some sort of legislation to establish an enforceable standard. The Barry-Eaton time-of-sale or transfer (TOST) ordinance is commonly used as an example of what not to do in local management – the ordinance was repealed in 2018 on the grounds that it was more costly than it needed to be.

Cost seems to be the only parameter that comes up in conversation about septic systems, not the fact that 2,566 (27%) of septic tanks evaluated required corrective action with 243 of them discharging untreated waste onto the ground surface just in two of Michigan’s counties (from the decade of Barry-Eaton TOST data, see link below). Without a statewide standard to hold septic tanks to, the problem will get worse as septic systems age and continue to degrade.  

The most popular counterargument for any local or statewide code is the cost of replacing a septic system or drain field. Though this can be expensive, the one-time cost is still less than most people will pay in sewer bills over the life of the system. More importantly, the focus should be on who is currently covering the cost of the failing systems — anyone that utilizes Michigan’s waterways,  sources drinking water from rivers or irrigates with surface water.

The problem is only going to progress as time goes on unless we can make a change in the way things are currently done. As the great philosopher Aldo Leopold once said, “The land ethic is a product of social evolution because nothing so important is ever ‘written’…it evolves in the minds of a thinking community.” Can we come together as a community and help ensure that we stay the great, lakes state?

Lake Huron – Hammond Bay Biological Station, June 2016


Achoo! Goldenrod or ragweed? Know the difference to help pollinators and reduce allergies

Kelcie Sweeney, Executive Director

Showy goldenrod in bloom

Both ragweed and goldenrod are in bloom right now, but only one is likely causing your sneezing.  Both plants produce a ton of pollen – great for pollinators who are starting to store up for the upcoming winter. But for allergy sufferers, high levels of pollen can cause all sorts of problems. Sneezing, runny noses and blurry eyes, just to name a few.  Goldenrod is often mistakenly blamed by allergy sufferers because it is more visible and blooms the same time as ragweed.

But goldenrod probably isn’t the culprit, unless you just rolled through a field of it.

Ragweed in bloom

The size of goldenrod’s pollen is too large for it to travel far without the help of pollinators.  Ragweed has small pollen easily carried by warm summer breezes. Up to 400 of miles, say some sources. While ragweed is native to North America, there has been an increase in the plant’s size and pollen count over the last few decades as temperatures have risen across the country. This trend is expected into the future.  Many varieties of ragweed are resistant to common herbicides which poses an obstacle if you want options to control ragweed around your home.  If you choose to pull ragweed, do so thoughtfully, ragweed spreads most commonly by root fragments.

High pollen levels are temporary.  Doing outdoor activities first thing in the morning when pollen levels are at their lowest can help reduce the impact on allergy sufferers. Knowing the difference between goldenrod and ragweed can also help you decide where to spend your time outdoors.

To plant goldenrod or other native plants for pollinators this fall, visit our online store:  www.squareup.com/store/ClintonConservationDistrict

Learn more:



It’s National Farmers Market Week!

Rebekah Faivor, CTAI Technician

Did you know that this is National Farmers Market Week? Many small farmers attend their local farmers markets to be able to introduce and sell their produce, meat, eggs, maple syrup, honey, and other products to customers. Shopping at a farmers market supports the local economy and reduces your carbon footprint.  Here at the Clinton Conservation District we support local farmers by helping them implement conservation practices that can improve soil and reduce nutrient use.

Support local farmers this week and attend a farmers market near you! Don’t know how to find a farmers market? Go to the Michigan Farmers Market Association’s “Find a farmers Market” feature.


MAEAP is a comprehensive proactive and voluntary agricultural pollution prevention program.  It takes a systems approach to assist producers in evaluating their farms for environmental risks.  The program includes applicable Generally Accepted Agriculture Practices (GAAMPs) established under Michigan Right to Farm.  This program also ensures producer confidentiality for any information provided in connection with the development, implementation or verification of a conservation plan or associated practices and is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.  There have been many local farms in Clinton County that have become MAEAP verified thus promoting environmental stewardship.  Some of the stewardship practices that will reduce risks may cost very little and take very little time to implement.  Other practices or structures may involve additional cost and may not be implemented for a few years.  Working with Clinton County’s MAEAP Technician will help you with a plan to reduce risks on your farm on your timeline.  Call the office today to learn more!

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician, Clinton County


Invasive species injectors available for rent in Mid-Michigan

Injector Rental Program Flyer 2019

For more information, contact Erin Pavloski, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator, Ingham Conservation District, erin.jarvie@macd.org

The Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) has invasive species injectors available to local landowners in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, and Ionia counties. These injectors are useful for local residents to treat small infestations of invasive Japanese, giant, and Bohemian knotweeds and are best used when knotweed is in bloom- August into September. Through this injector rental program, the Mid-Michigan CISMA hopes to empower local citizens in invasive species management.

The injectors will be available for four-day rental sessions with a refundable deposit and staff will train you to use the injection system. Contact the Clinton Conservation District or local conservation district to learn more and reserve your rental dates:

Clinton Conservation District: 989-224-3720 ext. 3
Eaton Conservation District: 517-543-1512 ext. 5
Ingham Conservation District: 517-676-2290
Ionia Conservation District: 616-527-2098

The Mid-Michigan CISMA is funded in part by the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program (www.michigan.gov/invasives).

Managing Your Land for Wildlife

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Aldo Leopold is credited with saying, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot,” this article is intended for the latter.

At our very core, people and animals aren’t that different. We want to be comfortable, well fed, and have a place to feel safe. The difference is that unlike humans, animals pay no attention to property lines allowing them to seek out where they feel most comfortable. We tend to oversimplify this in most cases by only putting out food, when in reality creating ideal habitat goes far beyond a simple forage base.

Picture this, it’s the peak of March Madness and you’ve been invited to two different watch parties. The first, is at your friend’s place with a decked-out basement complete with multiple T.V.s and plenty of seating.  The second invite is to your other friend’s place where the viewing area is not as impressive, but they live on a lake. Obviously the first invite is more attractive during the basketball tournament, but the opposite would be true if the invites were extended on a hot summer day. Similarly, wildlife habitat preferences change with the seasons. For example, during nesting season, pheasants prefer cool season grasses to provide their chicks with cover but during the winter they prefer switchgrass stands because they are sturdy enough to withstand the weight of snow cover. Providing all habitat requirements for the species you are trying to attract is the best way to encourage more to use of your land.

Seasonal preferences extend far beyond habitat type, too. They can apply to things like food, space, and how close other members of the same species are. We see an example of seasonal flock preferences in waterfowl. During fall, they group together to form big flocks in order to make migration easier.  In the spring, the same birds will split off into mating pairs so that they can raise their young with less competition for resources. Seasonal food preferences tend to be based on availability, making it important to have multiple food sources that come available at different times of the year to hold wildlife longer. We can observe this in our deer population through the way that they will ignore turnip greens during the fall but eat them during the winter when they are some of the last green vegetation to persist. All things to consider when trying to enhance your wildlife habitat.

The point is that while some habitat components may have more of an impact on whether or not certain species utilize your land, a holistic approach to habitat management is the best way to get your target species to hang around more often. Take your time, do the research, and do your best to provide the wildlife species that you’re interested in with all the things that it needs to be successful and flourish throughout the year.

Resources for habitat enhancements:





Stop the spread of aquatic invasive species: Remember to clean, drain, dry and dispose!

Erin Pavloski, Regional Coordinator, Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area

As summer weather arrives, we look forward to days spent at Michigan lakes and rivers. Whether you enjoy boating, paddling, fishing or floating, you can help to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) by following these easy steps from Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!:

1. “ CLEAN off visible aquatic plants, animals and mud from all equipment before leaving water access.
2. DRAIN motor, bilge, livewell and other water containing devices before leaving water access.
3. DRY everything for at least five days OR wipe with a towel before reuse.
4. DISPOSE of unwanted bait, worms and fish parts in the trash. When keeping live bait, drain bait container and replace with spring or dechlorinated tap water. Never dump live fish or other organisms from one water body into another.”

Make sure you know Michigan’s boating and fishing laws regarding AIS.

This summer, the Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) will be at local boat launches partnering with Michigan State University’s Mobile Boat Wash crew and hosting AIS Landing Blitzes with CISMA partner organizations to talk about AIS with aquatic-based recreationists in our four-county area.

Stop by one of the following events for a free boat wash and AIS materials:
● July 6 from 10:00 am-2:00 pm at Morrison Lake
● July 7 from 10:00 am-2:00 pm at Lake Lansing
● July 12 from 9:00 am-1:00 pm at Park Lake
● July 13 from 9:00 am-2:00 pm at Jordan Lake

It’s up to all of us to protect our water from aquatic invasive species. Remember to clean, drain, dry, and dispose!