Country Lore: Curing Dutch Elm Disease With Turpentine

This reader used pure gum turpentine to cure a tree's Dutch elm disease.
By Johnnie Williams
April/May 2005
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Twenty-seven years ago, I had a Dutch elm tree on our farm in Orange County, Ind. It was about 15 inches in diameter and stood about 100 feet from our house where we had a swing in its shade.

One morning, a redheaded woodpecker took some dead bark off a limb, and I realized the tree was dying from Dutch elm disease. But I had an idea to save it. My father kept a can of pure gum turpentine and said it was good to put on an animal’s cuts and scratches to keep flies away.

I thought it might work on the elm tree.

I drilled a 1-inch-diameter hole into the tree about a half inch deep and screwed an 18-inch, L-shaped pipe into the hole. (To make the L, use a 1-inch-diameter pipe 2 inches long, threaded at both ends, an elbow and an 18-inch, 1-inch-diameter pipe.) I poured about a cup of turpentine into the pipe and put a cork into the end. A week later, I checked the pipe and all the turpentine had drained into the tree. I unscrewed the pipe and put a cork into the hole and covered that with turpentine.

We moved a few years later, but recently I returned with my son-in-law to visit the farm. And there was the tree, 3 feet in diameter and about 75 feet tall, healthy as can be! I guess my dad was right about turpentine keeping insects away.

Be sure the pipe fits tightly into the hole so no turpentine leaks out and always use pure gum turpentine. If the tree starts to die again, give it another dose.


Johnnie Williams
New Albany, Indiana
 








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