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Tuesday - April 29, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Planting, Pruning, Trees
Title: Live oak leaves not dropping from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We had a 65 gallon live oak planted last October. We watered it regularly and it was green all through the winter. In March the leaves started to turn brown but never dropped, as they should have. New branches are sprouting and new leaves are growing, but not on any of the existing branches. Could this be a normal case of transplant shock, especially, given that we had a harsh winter with the couple of freezes? Should we be concerned and will pruning it help to spur new growth? Thanks,


First, that was a really big tree to transplant, and we would wish that you had waited until it was a little bit colder before you planted it, especially since we had a late hot summer. We recommend that woody plants (trees and shrubs) be transplanted only in the coolest part of the year, which is ordinarily December and January. One of the main reasons for this is the possibility of Oak Wilt being contracted by visits from sap-feeding nitidulid beetles; mid-winter is the safest time, and when the beetle is least likely to be active.

We don't mean to say your tree necessarily has Oak Wilt, we just want you to be aware of the threat. Live oaks are very vulnerable to the disease; on that subject, we want to answer your question about pruning to induce new growth with a resounding "no." By now, those beetles are definitely active and they looooove freshly pruned branches. Any beetle visiting those newly-pruned areas to have a drink of sap may very well have just come from an infected tree, with the Oak Wilt fungus still clinging on ready to spread to your tree.

Third thought, you do know that live oaks don't drop their old leaves until Spring and, as you point out, this has been one weird Spring. If nothing else is wrong with the tree, all those last year's leaves will drop suddenly all in about a week, and you will be raking again.

Conclusion (sort of): We think it is very possible there is some transplant shock involved, but the tree will probably survive, especially since it is putting on new leaves, please, no pruning or even scratching the bark to see if the inner layer is green, because we are sure you don't want to invite the beasties to tea.


From the Image Gallery

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

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