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Tuesday - August 25, 2009

From: League City, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Trees
Title: Damaged oaks from Hurricane Ike in League City, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

After hurricane IKE, one of our oak trees (in front yard) was partially uprooted from the ground. We did place it back, and tie it down with supports. Further, we inserted fertilizer spikes, and give it additional water regularly. After few months, that tree leaves start turning yellow (we have 2 trees in front yard, other is fine and green, that one was too uprooted during Ike). Long story short, that tree now seems totally dead, leaves are fallen off and ones that remains are completely yellow. I broke off one of the branches to see if there is moisture in it. It feels dry. Now the question is, is it dead (as I am suspecting or dormant)and if it is dead then how to replace it? That tree is good 20+ feet in height and was planted when we bought this house new about 3 years ago.

ANSWER:

Frankly, we are astounded that either tree lived at all. Even partial uprooting does an immense amount of root damage, as well as tearing loose the tiny rootlets that actually gather nutrients, water and trace elements from the soil. If the first tree looks dead, without leaves, it probably is a goner. You don't have to cut off a branch to try to determine whether a woody plant (trees, shrubs) is dead or alive, just use the thumbnail test. Scrape a very thin layer of the bark off a branch. If there is a thin green layer beneath it, it is alive. If not, you can keep moving lower on the tree, hunting some greenness under the bark. You did your best, staking it and watering it, although the fertilizer was probably not useful. You should never fertilize a plant under stress, and those trees were definitely stressed. However, we doubt that alone could kill the tree, we think Ike is guilty of that murder.

You need to get the dead body out of your garden, as it could harbor fungi, insects and critters, to the detriment of your other tree. We suggest getting professional help for this, looking online or in the Yellow Pages for "Tree Removal." They can come in with cutting equipment and a shredder and have the area cleaned up quickly. As for replacing the tree, don't do anything until the weather cools off, like late November. In the meantime, since you probably already have disturbed earth where the tree was taken out, you might begin preparing the soil for a fresh transplant by working some good quality organic material, like compost, into the soil. Then, when you go to the nursery to select a tree, insist on getting only one that is as freshly dug as possible. Don't buy it until you are actually ready to plant it, and get it into the ground as quickly as possible. Examine the roots of potted trees-if they are growing round and round in the pot, that tree is rootbound, and has already been in the pot too long.

Here is an article on planting oak trees from lovetoknow Garden Oak Tree Planting. You didn't say what oaks you already have, but if you are planning to replace your lost tree with another oak, we urge you to consider carefully the species of Quercus (oak) you select. The spectre of oak wilt hangs over Texas, and it has been devastating in many areas. From the Texas Oak Wilt Information Partnership (in which the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a partner), please read this article on the disease. Live oaks and red oaks are most susceptible. These include live oaks Quercus fusiformis (plateau oak) and Quercus virginiana (live oak), as well as red oaks such as Quercus shumardii (Shumard's oak)  and Quercus buckleyi (Buckley oak). 

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