En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - June 20, 2009

From: Manlius, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Problems with pin oak in Manlius, NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I bought a pin oak when it was ~5 ft tall. It has lived in clay/rock for the last 6 years--healthy, but didn't grow much (no surprise). This spring we planted 3 small boxwoods a few feet from its trunk, covered it all with compost, landscaping fabric, and cedar mulch/rock. The tree, I swear, has sprouted a full foot of growth since then. Its bark seems to be damaged. It's split and peeling from the base to the top. I see no insects on the tree but do notice what seems to be flying ants (?) near the tree. Several leaves are dried at the tips, and 2 small branches are dead. I covered it loosely with the nonadhesive type 1st aid tape as a temporary protection. The next day I noticed one part of the tape seems to have been pushed away, though I can't be sure. We have deer, squirrels, and chipmunks. Last year we had an infestation of Japanese Beetles and this tree was sprayed with pesticide. The tree is about 10 feet away from woods. What should I do? I would hate to lose the tree. Thanks so much.


Quercus palustris (pin oak) is native to New York, and is one of the faster-growing of the oak trees, so perhaps your recent efforts helped with the growth spurt. This USDA Plant Profile indicates that it is also native in or near Onondaga County and it is known to be somewhat tolerant of urban conditions. However, any time a plant that has done so well for a number of years in one spot has sudden changes, you have to ask yourself what has been the change in the environment? Because we are neither entomologists nor plant pathologists, we can only suggest links to some websites that might give you some clues, and then some contacts that hopefully will help you diagnose and, if possible, treat the problems. 

First, because the Pin Oak is a red oak, we must mention the dreaded Oak Wilt, to which red oaks are most susceptible. This has long been a big problem in Texas, but to our surprise, it has cropped up in New York. Read this article from Cornell University Plant Clinic: "Oak wilt - a new threat to forest and landscape trees in New York State." The bark of this tree is thin and easily damaged, and the nitulidid beetle, which spreads the oak wilt fungus, is always happy to find a split or opening in the tree's defensive bark. Another possibility for the bark damage is canker (Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic).  We don't have a clue to the "flying ants" near the tree. Termites, perhaps?

At any rate, it's obvious you need more help than we can give you, so we are going to refer you to Cornell Cooperative Extension - Gardening. Click on the "Get local help" link and you will get contact information for people who know a whole lot more about the plants, pests and diseases of New York than we do. This site mentioned that some of the county websites were not up yet, and we found this to be the case with Onondaga County; however, there are telephone numbers at the bottom of that page.

Quercus palustris




More Trees Questions

Failure of Bald Cypress to fully leaf out
April 14, 2008 - My family just moved to a house in Burnet County, about 7 miles south of Bertram, close to the Balcones Canyonlands NWR, with very rocky limestone soil. We bought several trees last fall, including a ...
view the full question and answer

White fuzz on Christmas tree from Lewisburg PA
January 04, 2011 - Our Canaan fir Christmas tree is now coated with white fuzz after being up for 4 weeks. The fuzz looks like spider webs, but it is also in clumps around the needles. When you rub your finger on it, ...
view the full question and answer

Distinguish between Huisache and Goldenball Leadtree
March 23, 2008 - How do you distinguish between Huisache (Acacia farnesiana) and Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa)? Thanks!
view the full question and answer

Registered/patented pecan by Foster W. Fort
August 01, 2010 - Hello, we own a historic house museum once owned by the Fort family of Waco, and have learned that Foster W. Fort developed a type of pecan tree and had an orchard somewhere here around Waco (possibly...
view the full question and answer

Goat damage to Arizona Cypress from Palmdale CA
June 28, 2012 - My goats stripped the bottom branches of my Arizona Cypress. Will they come back and how can I prevent future damage?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center