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Saturday - March 27, 2010

From: Pflugerville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Shumard Oak failing to leaf out in Pflugerville TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I planted a five gallon container grown Shumard Red Oak late last October and so far this spring there is no sign of any leaves on the tree. The branches are not brittle so I don't think that the tree is dead. When should the tree begin to develop leaves? Am I being impatient or could there be something wrong? P.S. I planted 2 Santa Rosa Plum trees the same day and they have flowered and now have leaves.


This USDA Plant Profile shows Quercus shumardii (Shumard's oak) growing natively in Pflugerville, Travis and Williamson Counties, so you have it in the right place. According to our Native Plant Database: "oaks are most often propagated from seed. No pretreatment is necessary. Plant immediately – outdoors or in deep containers to accomodate long initial taproot." That is one clue to what may have happened; if your tree was dug from the ground and placed in the pot, the taproot may have been broken in the transaction, which could kill the tree. A five-gallon tree is pretty big to be moving from the ground to a container, back to the ground. There are too many opportunities for either damaging the roots, including the taproot, or for allowing the roots to begin wrapping around inside the pot, ultimately strangling the tree. The only serious possibility of disease (other than Oak Wilt) was from the USDA Forest Service website Shumard Oak "Shoestring root rot attacks the roots and once inside moves upward, killing the cambium. The leaves on infected trees are small, pale or yellowed and fall early. There is no practical control. Healthy trees may be more resistant than trees of low vigor."

So, what was the appearance of the tree when you purchased it? If you planted it in October, it should have still had some of the bright Fall color leaves for which it is valued. Did you examine the root ball to see if the roots needed clipping to free them from wrapping around? Was there damage to the bark from tools or transport? By now, there should at least be some leaf buds on the smaller branches; perhaps the late cold snap has inhibited an earlier emergence. Next, to determine if the tree is actually alive, use the thumbnail test. With your thumbnail, make a very thin scraping of bark, looking for a green layer directly beneath the bark. Begin up high on the tree, if you find no green, keep working your way down, until you either find a green layer or determine that the tree is, indeed, dead. 

If you find no green and no buds, you might as well give up and abandon the tree. If it did not have any leaves on it when you purchased it, it might very well have already been dead or dying when you got it. Whether you can get any recourse from the nursery where it was purchased is doubtful, but probably worth a try.

If you feel there is life there, make sure it is getting plenty of water, but do not fertilize. This is a tree under stress, and you never want to fertilize a stressed plant. The fertilizer will only try to make new growth appear, when the plant is trying to stabilize itself. Give it another few weeks, in hopes it will begin to leaf out. If it still does not, again, it would seem to be a lost cause.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Quercus shumardii

Quercus shumardii

Quercus shumardii

Quercus shumardii




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