Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

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Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  chansen on Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:01 am

All -

I'm looking for help on identifying the probable cause of the death of my trees. I lost pretty much everything. A large zelkova and two acer p. seedlings survived. There is likely an issue that I need to resolve before I rebuild my collection (which will take some time), and I want to make sure I've tackled it before I spend more time and money. The species that died; Japanese maples (a few different cultivars), trident maples, Ume, Hokkaido elm, cherries, and American hornbeam. The plants ranged in size from 2 year old seedlings to 6 inch calipered trunks.

At this point I think I've found the culprit... a neighbor's cat that roams my backyard on a daily basis. I know cat urine can be fatal, and so far I've been unable to identify anything else that would explain the death of so many trees, across all the different species/sizes I had. However, I don't want to simply assume that I'm right and rebuild my collection to simply lose it again. A few details are below.

I use an inorganic soil mix consisting of pumice, lava, akadama (or turface when I can't find akadama locally), and a little horticultural charcoal. Of all the trees lost, all were in a slightly different variation of the mix depending on what I had on hand the year they were potted/repotted. There were no signs of soil breakdown.

The trees grew well last year. Buds set in the fall, I moved to a new house across town at the end of October, and the trees were overwintered in an unheated garage. I repotted a few trees in late March. I moved the trees outside and started the spring time bonsai dance. Those repotted were put back in the garage when temps got too low. For the trees that were repotted, there were lots of white fiberous roots. There were no signs of root problems. None of the repotted trees were left out on a night where temps got below freezing (~ two nights). Not all of the trees were repotted; death came to those repotted and those that were not.

As I've been cleaning things out, I've noticed fungus in the some of the root balls. In most cases it looks like mold, but I imagine that many fungi are greenish-blue looking. In one instance there appeared to be a pinkish fungus. I don't know if the fungi are the cause of the problem, or an after effect. I've seen no evidence of animal activity (gnawing on the trees) and no obvious bug damage (borer holes, etc.).

All the trees' branches have a shriveled look to them. As an example, the Japanese maples' trunks went from their normal green, to a pinkish color (these aren't coral barks) and then yellow. At the pink stage, branches began looking shriveled/puckered. When I pulled the trees out of the garage for the last time, I don't recall seeing any signs of trunk discoloration.

If there are any other ideas/theories that may have lead my trees' demise, please chime in.

Thanks,

Christian




chansen
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  drgonzo on Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:15 am

Is there any way we could see some pictures of the damage? As you have been growing well for some time and all looked well last fall it would seem to be an acute cause. Repotting or not repotting both had dead trees associated, so I would rule out issues with the re-pot.

Have you done a post mortem yet? Roots of dead trees, cross-section of branches that sort of thing? Any smell to the soil?

Tragic loss I feel for you
-Jay

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  David D on Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:45 am

Just a thought but is the water different in your new location. I overwintered in the garage this year instead of burying them in the frozen Iowa tundra. I watered them when needed with our well water which is incredibly hard (which I learned this spring). It caused the death of pines, junipers and spruces. While I have used the well water occasionally I usually water them with collected rainwater and flush them properly. I am sure my failure to properly water by not flushing the soil with multiple waterings led to the demise of my plants. The deciduous trees faired better since I watered them very sparingly and didn't get the build up of lime and minerals. Just a thought.

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:01 am

Both of these cases took place in Northern climates where the trees were placed in dark? garages over what was in many places a warm winter. I think the lack of light; moisture and warm temps caused an epidemic of root rot. The culprit could be a fungus or bacteria. The strange behavior and color of the trunks on the maple make me think of a bacteria that not only attacked the roots but the phylum or food transporting layer under the bark.

There are probably better scientists on the list besides me, but the sterilization of everything (I mean pots, tools, surfaces, etc.) in bleach solution is called for.

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Poink88 on Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:59 am

So sorry to hear this. I cringe thinking it can happen to me (or anyone). Hope you pin point the cause and address it properly then rebuilt your collection with better ones.

Please keep us posted...it might help someone here avoid similar problem.

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Mitch Thomas on Mon Apr 30, 2012 12:33 pm

I'll second the water quaility issue. Mostly because the across the board damage. Do a water test it may surprise you, If possible have two test one some water from your old house, and the new water. Then cross check one against the other.

Mitch

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  JimLewis on Mon Apr 30, 2012 12:34 pm

Had they leafed out (deciduous) before they died, or were buds swelling? Or were they all still bare? Had the evergreens started to show growth at the tips?

I can't imagine a cat with that much piss (and being so careful to put the "proper amount" onto each tree).

Since death occurred with so many different species and all at once, I'd have to suspect a man-made environmental problem. Is there any sign of distress among the yard plants at your new place? Have you or the neighbors recently had some kind of a lawn service who may have applied something that drifted onto your trees? Did the previous owner possibly store some kind of toxic material in that garage where they overwintered? Herbicide? Paint thinners? etc.? A poorly cleaned up spill could have left residuals.

I find it hard to imagine that hard water could do anything fatal to a tree over one winter, but if you are on a well, you might want to have an environmental assessment (not just bacteria!) of the water quality -- for your sake, too.

I'm not sure pictures would be of any help at this point, but if you have any from early on . . .

_________________
Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Mitch Thomas on Mon Apr 30, 2012 12:47 pm

Do your self a favor and do a water quaility check. Most city water is heavy in sodium amd high PH, this is die to how the water is treated to favor human consumption NOT plant consumption.

These are the parameters that are suggested. Check this site out.

http://www.firstrays.com/nutrition.htm

Mitch

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Mitch Thomas on Mon Apr 30, 2012 2:51 pm

drgonzo wrote:Water quality issues would probably only be noticeable during the growing season, unless there is something very SERIOUSLY wrong with your water supply at your new location. If the trees that survived are also receiving the same water I think we can rule that one out.

I would like to see a photo of the root zone with the molds you saw included,

...I would take one of the trees down to my local AG office and get some "professional" advice.

-Jay

Not Entirely True some trees , most elms, hollies, tropicals are not effected. Most pines, azaleas, ALL mapels, are effected. It is a slow process which occurs, typically it's starts after the trees leaf out or growth sprut in spring. The trees are stressed and they are needing more water, but the elevated levels of sodium and PH inhibits the plant from taking in the water it needs.

Have your water checked its cheap I think my test cost me about $15 us. Much cheaper than a whole collection of trees. If it comes back ok then you know whats not the problem.

Mitch

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  drgonzo on Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:41 pm

Mitch Thomas wrote: The trees are stressed and they are needing more water, but the elevated levels of sodium and PH inhibits the plant from taking in the water it needs.
Mitch

If the water quality was so poor and the pH so out of whack as to cause a problem with the plants osmotic pressures so early in the season then there is a major water issue at your new place. Mitch is right have your water tested.

-Jay

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Levi on Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:06 pm

I agree it could be many of the reasons already mentioned here, but since everything was doing so well beforehand and it was so widespread and sudden... it makes me almost wonder... is it possible that someone could have done something intentionally to harm your trees?

Levi
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Poink88 on Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:14 pm

Levi wrote:I agree it could be many of the reasons already mentioned here, but since everything was doing so well beforehand and it was so widespread and sudden... it makes me almost wonder... is it possible that someone could have done something intentionally to harm your trees?
My thoughts exactly.

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:23 pm

Poink88 wrote:
Levi wrote:I agree it could be many of the reasons already mentioned here, but since everything was doing so well beforehand and it was so widespread and sudden... it makes me almost wonder... is it possible that someone could have done something intentionally to harm your trees?
My thoughts exactly.

I third that thought. It was the first thing I thought of. If there is something unintentional that could wipe out my entire collection (cat urine), I'd be REALLY interested in knowing.

I feel for your loss and hope you can find the cause.
Good luck and don't give up
Sam

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  AlainK on Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:56 pm

Hi,

I don't believe in the water plot theory. Or you and your family should worry if you drink water from the tap!

I'd rather think that they were weakened by the change of environment/temperatures, and that they caught a disease.

For instance, see this post on the UBC maples forum :

Pseudomonsas syringae

You can also have a look at the images on the OSU website :

OSU Plant Clinic

From fusarium to Phytophtora and verticillium, there are plenty of killers to choose from Neutral And if your trees were kept in a confined environment when one was attacked, there are great chances that the others could get affected...

AlainK
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  chansen on Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:15 pm

First off, thank you all for your contributions. I appreciate all the ideas/feedback. I will try to respond, and add a few more details that I forgot to include last night.

The trees were not in leaf yet, and buds hadn't really begun to move. I have a limited number of non-deciduous trees, and the two pines I had died while in the garage. However, I think that's probably due to poor soil and getting too dry. They were late summer purchases from a nursery, and were still in their nursery soil. The shimpaku I have is beginning to look unhealthy, but I don't think it's dead.

As far as water quality; I do think that the water where I am now is harder than where I was previously. However, I don't think it would be hard enough to kill them. Also, I'm not on a well. The trees were watered sparingly during the winter, so I would be surprised if there was enough to kill them. One additional detail I failed to add last night - the zelkova that survived was in a heavier/more organic soil mix than the rest. I would think that with the more water retentive soil, a water problem would have hit that one worse than the others, unless the organic components were neutralizing the problems. However, the seedlings that survived were in a lava, pumice turface mix. I will probably still have the water tested, just so I know. I do recall seeing a foam-like substance when I watered the trees, and I seem to remember seeing it when other things were watered. Kind of like there was a very small amount of soap in the water, but not enough to cause major bubbles, and it dissipated quickly. Another reason to test the water...

Regarding environmental issues in the garage, the trees were places on top of flattened cardboard boxes to keep them off the concrete. Although it's possible there was some residual chemical on the garage floor, I doubt it. By the looks of things (and from the neighbor's accounts), the previous owner was not the most handy person. And based on the grass-to-dandelion ratio in the front yard, it seems he wasn't aware that weed killers or other herbicides exist. Our winter was a little warmer than normal, but that just means that instead of getting into the 20s at night, it only went down to the 30s. The day time temps were often in the 50s, but the north facing garage mitigated a lot of that. We also had a pretty dry winter, not much precipitation at all. Since I live in Utah, it's usually more humid in my house than it is outside.

We did spray the backyard with Roundup this spring, we used the kill everything variety. However, the area where the trees were was not sprayed. The grass/weed mixture in that area is green and healthy. I read the instructions on how to kill a tree with Roundup, and they indicate that to kill a tree you have to chop it down, drill holes in the trunk and pour undiluted concentrate into the holes. If there was some overspray, it would have been diluted and in pretty low doses since the tree area was avoided by a few feet. If this was the cause, it would also seem strange that trees in the middle row (they were in rows of 5) survived, but trees farthest from the spraying were killed. As far as other yard plants experiencing problems, the one tree in the backyard is a liquidamber. It's been really slow to leaf out, but it finally is on the move. There is a stump of another dead sweetgum in the backyard, and couple other dead prunus in the back. The sweetgums have 4 inch caliper trunks, the prunus are about 1 inch. The roses in the front look fine.

As I've gone through the trees doing the post mortem, all roots have been black and dead. I haven't smelled anything too repugnant. I've cut through branches and trunks but haven't found anything out of the ordinary. I'll try to get a picture of the mold/fungus tonight.

After looking through images of trees on OSU's website (thanks AlianK for the link), I'm beginning to wonder if it's sunscald. The trees were in a west facing location (shaded from southern exposures). I don't have any trees whose bark began to peel off, but I don't know that I kept anything around long enough for that to happen. Our temperature swings in March and April were from the upper 30s to the mid to upper 50s. I wonder if that would be enough to do it. And now that I think about it, branches with damage did seem to have about 1/2 of the branch damaged, with the other 1/2 still green (usually the underside of the branch was ok). Now I wish I hadn't moved things around so much so I could see if it was the west facing parts of the trees that were discolored first. I know that for my Acer p Arakawa, that was the case. I've also not ruled out intentional harm; we did buy a foreclosed property.

Thanks everyone for your input.

chansen
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  AlainK on Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:45 pm

chansen wrote:
We did spray the backyard with Roundup this spring,

Oh my!...

Shocked

Do you know that you can make excellent wine with dandelion?

- 3 litres of Dandelion flowers
- 4 litres of boiling water
- 3 oranges and 3 lemons (chemical-free) cut into squares
- 500 grammes of sultanas
- 1.750 kilogramme of sugar

Pour the boiling water on the flowers, and let it rest for 24 hrs; filter
Add the other ingredients and leave in a big bucket (covered) for 25 days, stir regularly. After a while, bubbles will appear : fermentatiopn has begun
Filter again and put in corked bottles. The older it stays in the bottle, the better it is. It's naturally 15-18°, and tastes excellent. There are variants too, and you can do it with other wild flowers such as daisies.

Roundup... Sad

AlainK
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Mitch Thomas on Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:26 pm

[quote="AlainK"]Hi,

I don't believe in the water plot theory. Or you and your family should worry if you drink water from the tap!

Human consumption and plant consumption are two very different parameters. There is a large nursery in the same town where I live, they have to inject approximately 50 US gallons of sulfuric acid per day to adjust and maintain thier PH. They are the people who opened my eyes to the cities "safe" water parameters.

Check out the web site that I posted earlier for the parameters for horticulture. Also check www.bonsai4me.com and check out the articles by Harry Harrington on his experiences with moving his bonsai and different water quaility issues.

The damage is a slow process that is hard to detect until its to late. Not all plants are are effected in same manor which also makes it hard to identify. I am not surprised your zelcova survived most elms and hollies, olive are mor tolerant than others. Mapels, pines, junipers, are among the least.

Mitch

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  JimLewis on Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:32 pm

If you are on city water, it must meet fairly stringent federal and state WQ standards. The water department is required to provide customers with the annual (or maybe more frequent, I can't recall) water analyses it conducts, so you should be able to get that from the city or the company that runs the system. Generally, if you can drink it (nevermind the taste!) your trees can too.

_________________
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  AlainK on Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:55 pm

Mitch Thomas wrote:
Human consumption and plant consumption are two very different parameters.

Of course they are. Laughing

But firstly, you've probably noticed the tongue-in-cheek tone of the message.

Secondly, some species are more prone to suffer from the quality of the water, and among the same species, some trees are more likely to die from hard water than others: the bigger ones can store more nutrients than the smaller ones.

Thirdly, I'd say that if there had been a water problem before "Chansen" moved to his new place, he would have noticed. From the colours of the leaves, the vigour of the trees, etc. That a whole bunch of trees can die from "hard water" in a few weeks is plain science-fiction to me.

You wrote:

"There is a large nursery in the same town where I live, they have to inject approximately 50 US gallons of sulfuric acid per day to adjust and maintain thier PH."

Let me calculate that in litres : 189.270589 litres, wow!

How much water does this "large nursery" use per day? It only makes sense in terms of percentage.

What's more, they're saving on sulphur treatment against fungus and cryptogamic diseases. Do you know the amount of chlorine that is in the water you consume every day?

Even rain water is not pure, especially if you live near a nuclear plant, a refuse incinerator, or even a sugar beetroot transformation unit...

Last, but not least: Chansen didn't tell us about the many potted plants in his neighbourhood. If it had anything to do with the water, he's in the US, he would have already been pestered day and night by greedy lawyers ready to sue the water company for zillion dollars...

I call it common sense.

But hey, maybe there's something more to it after all: a conspiracy of bonsai-haters? Yes, alien bonsai-haters that want to destroy our soooo-zen way of living! Get in your SUVs, load your guns, shoot at anyone who's above shohin-size, bang, bang!

Razz

I'm kidding of course, but beware of gurus: use science and critical mind Wink

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Poink88 on Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:58 pm

Alain,

I like how your mind works. Wink

Poink88
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Kev Bailey on Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:29 pm

I feel for you loss and can sympathise.

I like Alain's tongue in cheek ripostes too.

But one thing mentioned drew my attention. You mentioned a "foam like substance" when you watered the trees. Was it your usual clean watering can? Not one left over from the previous owner or anything like that? One of the very effective weedkillers that I have reluctantly used for persistent deep rooted perennial weeds gives precisely that appearance, more or less, depending upon dilution rates!

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  chansen on Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:47 pm

Kev Bailey wrote:I like Alain's tongue in cheek ripostes too.

But one thing mentioned drew my attention. You mentioned a "foam like substance" when you watered the trees. Was it your usual clean watering can? Not one left over from the previous owner or anything like that? One of the very effective weedkillers that I have reluctantly used for persistent deep rooted perennial weeds gives precisely that appearance, more or less depending upon dilution rates!

Good catch Kev. I have noticed the foaming/bubbling with my watering can, as well as my new hose and watering wand attachment. It seems that whatever it is (if anything) is coming directly from the water system. Neither the watering can, nor the hose and watering wand have had herbicides through them. When I get home tonight I'll check the water some more, and see if it's a repeatable problem.

I've looked up the water quality report for my city, and of the items listed none were out of the range from the information Mitch pointed to.

chansen
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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  marcus watts on Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:07 pm

Hi,
sorry about your losses

i've seen the type of branch damage described - top half dead, with a strip of live bark on the sheltered underside several times before on acer palmatums and tridents - it was cased by a very short sudden but hard frost in late spring - the sap was rising, buds were just swelling but no leaves out, and I guess the branch froze very quickly on the exposed upper side. The frost was gone by morning and there was no signs of ice. Most trees lost all the outer ramification quickly and the larger branches were greatly weakened due to very reduced sap flow. only one tree died but others were weak for a couple of years and most only improved when damaged sections were cut back

This is unusual though as the sap needs to be well on the move - a frozen tree with frozen soil will come to no harm as it is shut down. i see and hear a lot of paranoid panic about bonsai and winter -100% from actual observation the people who let the bulk of their trees be natural trees have the best collections - those that treat them like delicate house plants have a hard time and are the ones who lose trees - when they lose a tree they protect the others more - and a catch 22 forms as confidence is shattered that their trees can survive in winter

I think there are several unfortunate circumstances that have combined to the many deaths- I believe the pines died unrelated to the others - a late purchase of a basically hardy tree that in winter temps of 30 does not need to come indoors - dragging trees in and out constantly because its a bit cool at night is just unneccessary and the trees probably never entered true dormancy so needed more water than they got. junipers should be outside too, they can happily change colour to bronze/brown, and should wake up when mother nature tells them to.

blackened roots sre usually water damaged though - and moulds/fungus grow in moist conditions - a dormant tree basically needs no water....it is not growing. A moist/damp soil in protected conditions will promote rot - once the roots are rotten the branches will wither when they need water, looking dried up, even tthough it was moisture that killed the tree.

I put the bulk of this down to 1) moving - (it turned my collection upside down for a year and effected several trees) - 2) over protecting trees that would have survived perfectly well outside and 3) too much change in a short space of time on weakened trees - hard water and treated tap water is a shock that can kill plants- go out and buy a supermarket orchid - water it from the tap, watch it die.

Most important - dont draw the wrong conclusions now or you will killl the next set of trees the same way.

cheers and good luck in the future

Marcus

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  John Quinn on Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:12 pm

Was it recent enough that you still have plant material that can be analyzed by your local Extension Agency (County or University based). Perhaps they can identify a disease at work, e.g. a fungus.
I am still concerned about Roundup drifting unpredictably and affecting some trees more than others...

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

Post  Levi on Tue May 01, 2012 3:35 am

AlainK wrote:
Mitch Thomas wrote:
Human consumption and plant consumption are two very different parameters.



But hey, maybe there's something more to it after all: a conspiracy of bonsai-haters? Yes, alien bonsai-haters that want to destroy our soooo-zen way of living! Get in your SUVs, load your guns, shoot at anyone who's above shohin-size, bang, bang!

Razz

I'm kidding of course, but beware of gurus: use science and critical mind Wink

I appreciate the humor, and like I said it really could be some of these explanations that I have seen here. I just thought I'd point an intentional act out as a possibility. Be terrible if it were something like this and the poor guy spent years paranoid that he was doing something terribly wrong and that it could all happen again at any moment. I had read about an angry wife/girlfriend pouring herbicide over trees and having only a few survivors. And not meaning to discriminate against an age group, but bored teenagers are capable of some crazy things and random acts of destruction. I had a friend in high school whose family had an industrial herbicide sprayer mounted on a truck... a couple of guys took this truck out and sprayed unsuspecting people's yards and flower beds/gardens during the night with a powerful herbicide killing virtually everything. Not at all saying this is the case, only that its worthy of consideration as a possibility. I really hope it isn't because this would be the most tragic cause of losing a bonsai collection. Best of luck on figuring this out and I truly hope you never have anything like this happen again.

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Re: Mass Tree Death - lost all my trees

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