Trees are an essential part of our life. They provide us with oxygen, shade, and add beauty to everything that surrounds them. When you think back to being a kid, what is the first tree that comes to mind? Probably the oak tree. With its large, stoutly trunk and strong, powerful branches, these sentinel trees can live for centuries. As tall and proud as they stand, they are not indestructible. In fact, there is an invasive disease ravaging through parts of the U.S., including right here in the area of Lubbock, Texas. This disease is called Oak Wilt, and it is slowly suffocating the life out of the strong, healthy tree we have grown up enjoying.
What is Oak Wilt?
Oak Wilt, Ceratocystis Fagacearum, is a fungal disease imported from Latin America and is carried by beetles that feed on the sap. The fungus disrupts the trees’ vascular system, which cuts off its water and nutrient supply. The lack of nutrients and water causes leaf discoloration, wilting of the tree, and the leaves to fall off. Eventually, the disease will cause the oak tree to die.
Symptoms of Oak Wilt
Oak trees are divided into two different groups, red and white oaks. Red oaks are more susceptible and usually die within a few weeks of infection. White oaks are more resistant and tend to live for several years after being infected. The first sign of oak wilt is a brown or green discoloration of the leaves around the top of the tree. Whole branches may start yellowing and browning as the disease progresses. As the fungus grows, the tree bark will begin to crack, and you will start to see various patches of dark brown and white splotches on the tree bark. Leaves will begin to litter the ground as the whole tree wilts. White oak trees exhibit many of the same symptoms but at a slower, gradual pace. Tree death in the red oak family occurs very quickly.
How is Oak Wilt Spread
Oak wilt spreads in three different ways.
- Underground Transmission
First, there is the underground transmission. This is when the roots of an affected tree intermingle with the roots of an unaffected tree. The infected trees’ roots send out shock waves through the unaffected trees’ root system, spreading the disease to all the oak trees around it. The only time a tree is not susceptible is when it is completely dormant.
- Overland Transmission
Overland transmission occurs above ground. When an infected oak tree is pruned during the active growing season, it permeates an odor similar to stale beer. This non-appealing odor may not be attractive to humans, but it attracts a beetle called Nitidulids (commonly called sap beetles). These hungry beetles feed off the fungus on top of the bark. The fungal spores then stick to their bodies. As they fly from tree to tree, they infect every tree in their wake.
- Moving Firewood
Because fungus stays on wood that is cut from infected oak trees, it provides a new infection source when it is moved from one place to another.
Preventing Oak Wilt
You can help to protect your beloved oak trees by not moving firewood. Moving firewood helps spread a variety of tree diseases, including oak wilt. You can also help prevent oak wilt by only pruning your oak tree during the trees’ dormant months. Here in Texas, that is typically between February through April. Sap beetles are primarily active in the spring and summer. Therefore, pruning during the winter will give the tree’s limbs or branches time to heal before the fungus can attract sap beetles. Because Texas weather is so unpredictable, be sure to check your forecast for the upcoming week or two.
If you must cut branches or limbs, and the temperatures are seasonably warm, make sure all wounds are sealed with a tree wound dressing or latex paint. You can find either of these at most home improvement stores. Remember, when pruning any tree, it is essential to clean your tools with alcohol or bleach between cuts properly.
What if My Oak Tree Has Oak Wilt?
A correct diagnosis is critical to reducing the spread of the disease. Oak wilt can often be confused with other tree-related conditions. At Ashton Walden Turf Services, we highly recommend hiring a professional. The only cure for oak wilt is to eliminate the tree. Unfortunately, just cutting down the infected tree isn’t enough. Due to underground transmission, the infected tree’s roots can still infect the other oak tree’s roots around it. This makes it crucial to sever root connections between infected and healthy oaks. Another reason why hiring a professional is so important.
We’re Here For Your Tree Care Needs
Here at Ashton Walden, we have a certified arborist on staff who understands how to maintain the health and livelihood of your monumental trees and shrubs. We offer a tree and shrub care program that can help keep your trees strong and healthy.
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