Tulip tree scale causing headaches for homeowners

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Trees across southern and central Indiana are infested with bugs.

The insects are not just harming the trees themselves. They're also leaking a syrupy-sap that's coating cars, decks and driveways.

Experts call the problem an epidemic this year.

You can hear it and see it and feel it when you walk across Pilar Taylor's backyard deck in Bloomington.

"Everything sticks to you, like the leaves, the debris," Taylor said. "It's also a real hazard when it rains because it gets very slick so you have to be really careful not to fall and hurt yourself."

That sticky situation is causing major headaches for hundreds of homeowners.

This summer, tulip trees in Taylor's yard are sending a syrupy sap all over.

"We don't come outside during the day because we don't want to be rained sap on. We don't park our cars in the driveway because our cars are getting ruined. We don't play outside. We don't let our pets come out. It's just terrible," Taylor explained.

The big mess is being blamed on a tiny bug, an insect called the tulip tree scale, that sucks the sap off of tulip trees.

The insects are simply coating the branches of Indiana's state tree.

They make the trees' leaves appear to be glistening. But that sugary sheen is really excreted "honeydew"- urine from the bugs - raining down.

"It just seems like it's epidemic to every tree that's in the forest right now," said Morgan-Monroe Forest resource supervisor David Vadas. "We had a mild winter and several dry falls, so when trees are stressed, the insects and diseases tend to pop up. It seems to be a consistent problem throughout southern Indiana this summer."

The infestation could kill some tulip trees and their sap-like excrement, experts say, could be dangerous where branches hang over roadways and leave what looks like black ice on the road.

"It could be a safety issue on some roads if someone was going too fast. They could actually slide on it," Vadas said.

It's causing problems at the car wash too.

Bloomington Car Wash Center has seen more cars coming through, covered in the sap. Most can get clean, but not all of them.

"We've had to actually turn away a few cars just because it's been too bad. We can't get it off. We didn't want to send it through our machine and hurt anything. On some cars there are big globs of almost, looks like honey," said car wash manager Jordan Root.

So how do you get rid of the gunk?

On your car, experts say power wash it right away so it doesn't build up.

As for the trees, you can use the systematic insecticide imidacloprid on the soil, but that can take weeks to move up through the tree.

Some treatments also can be costly. Pilar was quoted $2,000 by an arborist to treat ten trees in her yard.

So in the meantime, she's buying a power washer for her deck and staying inside, safe from the sap.

If you're not sure what will work on your trees, you can contact the Indiana DNR, Division of Forestry.

Scale insects