Now is the time to spray if you want to save a pine.
With the summer assault of mountain pine beetles weeks away and engraver beetles already in the air, there's no time to waste in protecting valuable pine trees.
That was the message delivered Wednesday by state and federal forestry specialists in a nicely wooded neighborhood of southwestern Rapid City. Their point was emphasized by Bill Dittmer of 1-Stop Pest Control of Spearfish, who power-washed the trunks of a cluster of 40-foot ponderosa pine trees with a pesticide spray.
He could have gone higher, had the trees been twice as tall. That's what tends to separate do-it-yourself applicators from the professionals.
"Volume and pressure," Dittmer said in describing what it takes to properly protect a pine. "In order to hit the top of a mature pine tree 80 feet tall, you need volume and pressure."
Dittmer and other pest-control specialists have both. That's why state forest health specialist John Ball of Brookings encouraged property owners to consider hiring help in spraying trees.
"We do want people to hire someone to spray their trees rather than doing it themselves," Ball said. "If you have some key trees around your house, the one way you can save them is by spraying."
State and federal agencies have been offering workshops in proper spraying, which have been open to private landowners. But Ball said it takes the right gear and expertise to handle the job properly.
It is likely too much for most property owners, he said.
Spraying to protect pine trees from mountain pine beetles and pine engraver beetles is not a 100 percent guarantee, but it's close. When properly applied at the right time — which is before the bugs attack the tree — the pesticides are up to 99 percent effective, Ball said.
"When you take a look at 99 percent odds, that's better than any lottery ticket you're going to find," he said.
Proper application for preventing pine beetles means spraying the trunk from the bottom to the point where the trunk narrows to about 4 inches in diameter near the top. And the application should be heavy enough so that the spray runs down the bark, Ball said.
Most importantly, it should be done before the bugs attack. This is a good time for that, said Kurt Allen, a U.S. Forest Service entomologist in Rapid City.
For mountain pine beetles, which typically begin their flights in July, May is the best time to spray and mid-June is about the latest it should be done, Allen said. If there are signs of bug hits, it's probably too late.
"Once a tree is attacked, there's nothing you can spray on it to kill the beetle," Allen said.
Commercial applicators know the proper pesticides to use and understand how to assure proper coverage, Ball said. Trying to convert sprayers used for other purposes into pine tree protectors is unlikely to work, he said.
Commercial application has dropped in price from about $25 a tree to "somewhere in the teens," Ball said.
That compared favorably to the cost of removing a bug-killed pine tree, which could run from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on its size and location, he said.