European Ash Profile

European ash tree budding in spring

ArgenLant / Shutterstock

Unfortunately, unless you travel or see it in a photograph, most Americans will never see a European ash. This storied tree has been the subject of legends, and rightfully so.  When seen, there is no denying how impressive it is. The botanical name, Fraxinus excelsior means Lofty Ash. The European ash can reach up to 115 feet tall and have a spread of up to 60. It can be distinguished from other ash trees by almost black buds. It usually has a much wider spread than other ash trees, and the European ash has a dark green leaf that is made up of seven to 13 thirteen leaflets in an opposing pattern.

Fun Fact

In Britain, druids regarded the ash as sacred and their wands were often made of the European ash.

When in its native environment the ash is host to over 100 of insects, which is one reason the tree is considered magical and is the model of the iconic tree of life imagery. Not all of the insects the European ash plays host to are beneficial. Like most members of the genus Fraxinus, in most of North America the European ash is ravaged by the Emerald ash borer. If you live in the narrow hardiness range that the European ash thrives in, and are up to a gardening challenge, maintaining this giant in your landscape might be exactly the mythic quest that you've been looking for.

Botanical Name Fraxinus excelsior
Common Name European Ash, Common Ash
Plant Type  Tree
Mature Size 70 to 80 Feet
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Moist, Well Drained, Loam
Soil pH Adaptable
Bloom Time April to May
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zone 5 to 7
Native Area Europe, Caucaus

How to Grow

Most people seek out one of the preferred cultivars when growing the European ash in their landscape. The normal variety of the tree is considered to be too problematic, with not enough reward. The European ash tree's preference for cooler climates is one of the reasons for its bad reputation. The other is, of course, the tendency for ash trees in general to have disease and pest issues. Temperature and keeping the tree healthy and pest free are the keys to successfully growing this tree in North America.

Keeping the European ash tree pest free is impossible without being proactive because of the Emerald ash borer. It is not a matter of if your tree gets infested. It is a matter of when.

Close up of the black buds of the European ash tree
 

Soil

Luckily soil is not an issue with the European ash. It is relatively adaptable and can handle a variety of soil conditions.

Water

Water the European ash two to three inches when young. Regular watering is not needed when the tree matures unless there is a dry season or especially dry weather.

Temperature and Humidity

The European ash is native to the cool somewhat damp climates of northern and central Europe. It does not react well to changes away from this temperature range. In North America, the tree has done well in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.

Pruning

Pruning is synonymous with ash trees. The European Ash can grow 12 to 18 inches a year. During the second or third winter, after the leaves fall, you will want to do your first pruning to establish a central leader, or singular trunk, and prune out any crossing branches. Always use sharp tools that are sterilized with alcohol to avoid spreading disease. While pruning be sure to look for dead or dying branches and remove them, taking note if there seems to be an excessive amount, this which can signal a more serious issue.

Always remember, with Ash tree waste to check if you are under quarantine before you dispose of anything you prune. You can call your local DEP or extension agency for clarification.

Emerald Ash Borer

The biggest concern for all trees in the genus Fraxinus since 2002 is the Emerald Ash Borer. The insect has caused the deaths of over 17 million trees at a cost of 10.7 billion dollars. In areas where the EAB has spread, your tree will eventually be infested. If you are cautious and keep ahead of an infestation and treat your tree before damage is too severe, you may be able to save or prolong the life of the tree. Look for the common symptoms of an infestation which are: canopy thinning and crown dieback, random leafy growth from stress, woodpecker damage, D- shaped exit holes, S- shaped galleries or grooves, and splitting bark.

When all these are present it is time to consider treating your ash tree. A good indicator of whether the tree can be saved is if one third of the tree is damaged, Then, it is a better idea to remove the tree for safety and cost reasons. If the tree is not yet that to that point of damage, and it is smaller than 20 inches in diameter, you can treat it yourself with pesticides. If it is larger than that, or if you are in doubt, hire an arborist who is a licensed applicator.

Warning!

Always read and carefully follow all precautions and directions provided on the container label. Store all chemicals in the original labeled containers away from food, and out of the reach of children, and animals!

Diseases Other Than Emerald Ash Borer

The most serious disease you need to contend with is Ash Dieback. Ash Yellows, which is caused by a virus that damages the trees vascular system. Experts believe the cause of the virus is insects but do not know much more than that. The symptoms to look for are slow twig growth and rapid die back. Leaves on infected trees are frequently smaller, thinner and lighter green than usual, branches might produce tufts of leaves called a witches' broom. There is no cure for Ash Yellows so the treatment is the removal of the tree to avoid further spread.

Cultivars

If looking to plant a European ash cultivars are much more desirable than the common form and also more available in the nursery trade. Some examples are:

Fraxinus excelsior 'Aurea Pendula'

Weeping form of the European ash with striking gold stems and golden foliage as autumn progress. A tree that promises all season interest.  

Fraxinus excelsior 'Pendula' 

A slow-growing tree with branches that are pendulous giving it a nice weeping look. It can attain a height of 15-20 feet. 

Fraxinus excelsior 'Aureafolia'

An Amazing specimen tree with yellow bark that starts the season bright green then shifts to a golden hue around July.