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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - February 07, 2009

From: Boerne, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Transplants, Watering, Trees
Title: Recently planted live oak tree in Boerne, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My brother planted a live oak in August. It was from a nursery and had a root ball. It looks dead but I keep watering it. The trunk is about 6 inches around. The leaves died but when the winds came this winter the leaves didn't blow off. Do I take the leaves off??? The branches and trunk are still green. When do I cut compact maiden grass, pampas grass and fountain grass back is now too early and how short!!

ANSWER:

Did you say it was planted in August? In Texas? That almost answers the question all by itself. In this part of the country, woody plants, especially trees, should be planted in the winter, when they are at least semi-dormant and not so likely to suffer from transplant shock. We're guessing, since you live in the Texas Hill Country, that your tree is Quercus fusiformis (plateau oak), and that it has a really bad case of transplant shock. We're not sure if you can do anything about it, but we'll offer some suggestions and hope they work.

Ordinarily, with transplant shock, we would recommend trimming off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the upper part of the plant to take some of the load off of the roots in getting water and nutrients up to the leaves. However, in this case, we are now into February and the Nitidulid beetles will be active from now through May. Oak Wilt, a dread scourge of oak trees, and especially live oaks, is caused by a fungus introduced into the trees by the beetles. Cuts or wounds in the tree may offer an opportunity to those beetles. 

The live oak showed its first sign of stress when the leaves turned brown. They didn't fall off because the live oak does not ordinarily drop its leaves until early Spring, and they are quickly replaced by new green leaves. So, if you feel the trunk and branches are still alive, there is some hope that those brown leaves will drop off naturally and be replaced by new ones very soon. In the meantime, water the tree by forcing a hose down in the dirt and letting the water drip very slowly until water appears on the surface. Do this a couple times a week. Mulch the roots to protect them as much as possible. Avoid any kind of damage to the bark and don't fertilize. Never fertilize a plant under stress.  With any luck, the little tree will start to put on new leaf buds soon, and begin to recover. And if it does succumb and you want to plant a replacement, please don't do it in August!

Finally, your question about trimming the three grasses. Before we get into a more important matter, we can tell you that most grasses should be trimmed to about 6" in late Winter or early Spring, so this is a good time.

Now, a word about those three non-native grasses. Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass) is a native of North Africa.  Please read this Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted-Pennisetum setaceum. Pampas grass, Cortaderia jubata, is native to South America.  Read why it is disliked in this National Park Service website on Pampas Grass. Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis, is a native to Asia. The website invasives.org weighs in on the invasiveness and fire danger of Miscanthus Sinensis

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the use, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they occur naturally. Imported plants can often become invasive and crowd out natural habitat, as is the case in all three of these grasses. We're hoping that when the time comes to replace these grasses, you will choose to do so with native grasses, which can be equally attractive and are much safer for the environment. 

 

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