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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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Sunday - August 01, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Problem Plants, Trees
Title: Live oak sprouts in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

How can I control the hundreds of live oak sprouts our lovely trees are throwing off? We recently landscaped with rain gardens and the related drainage ditches; they are filled with these very happy sprouts.

ANSWER:

The sprouts coming up could either be suckers off the roots of your existing live oaks, or seedlings from a very good crop of acorns. Either way, they need to be physically removed, by pulling them out. If the terrain permits, you could try mowing very low. If you deny the roots of acorn seedlings the ability to produce leaves long enough, the roots (and the seedling) will starve.

Suckers from the roots are another thing altogether. One of the big problems with live oaks in Central Texas is Oak Wilt. One of the ways live oaks grow is in mottes, or clusters, caused by uncontrolled suckering off the parent tree(s). As these clusters develop, their roots are intertwined; an introduction of the fungus causing Oak Wilt then becomes widespread as it travels through all those roots. Any herbicide you use can easily affect the parent tree, which you certainly don't want to do.

If what you have is mostly seedlings, raking up and removing the acorns in the Fall is the first, best thing to do to prevent more. The next is to be vigilant and pull up any sprout you see-it may be a sucker, it may be a seedling, but either way, pulling out and not permitting it to develop leaves will help eliminate the problem. We realize you probably would like us to recommend a spray you can purchase at the local nursery that will disable the sprouts and harm nothing else. We would love to do that, too, but there isn't one. 

 

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