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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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Monday - April 04, 2011

From: Carrollton, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: More on oak problems in Carrollton TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Thank you for answering me, I will contact a specialist to see if we can determine the cause. but since writing you we have pulled down a small twig to see the leaf more closely, it is more of a reddish green - not really brown. and while I did some research on oak wilt before writing you, the leaves do not look like those I see on any of the websites. This does not mean that it can not still be oak wilt, but wanted to give you that information too. and to ask if lack of water would add to this, as we found that one of the sprinkler heads that was to be watering this tree was not functioning properly. now there are two others close by that were fine, so it was not without any water, but it was not getting as much as I believe it needed. Could that be part of the problem and could additonal water now help it any. On the pear trees, we were aware of the short life span of the trees - we purchased this house ten years ago and so we were not surprised to find half of the largest of the three trees laying on our front lawn one morning - when there had been no storm. We had been finding limbs from our back trees on our roof - so we decided the best decision was to remove them before they cause extensive damage to our home or our neighbors. It was hard to remove them, but we now have two replacement trees, that are native to Texas and long life span. We did a lot of research before planting them. We put in a Chinese pistache and a chinkapin oak; they have now sprouted (we planted them in December) and are doing great.

ANSWER:

It sounds like you were already on the right track when you wrote to us initially. As we mentioned in our first response, there are a lot of things that can be causing the strange coloration in your live oak leaves. We don't believe water lack would cause anything but brown leaves, but who knows? This is really the sort of thing that needs eyeballs on the tree and someone who knows what they are talking about. Since our answers are read by many people we try to put in an explanation for why we recommend native plants or certain practices, such as not planting a Bradford pear, in all our answers. We will say a sprinkler system is not the ideal for watering trees. Usually, especially for recently planted trees, we recommend getting a hose down in the soil around the roots and letting it dribble until water is on the surface, and doing this two or three times a week, especially in hot, dry weather.

We are neither plant pathologists nor entomologists and have to rely on research and experience to help other gardeners. One thing we did not mention previously was the possibility that an herbicide has been used in the vicinity of the tree recently. Even weed and feed lawn fertilizers can cause problems, especially for a young tree. The herbicide in those fertilizers is for broad leaf weeds in the lawn and guess what? A tree is a broad leaf plant, too. The gardener really has to be a detective, and all we can do is suggest some of the things to consider.

By the way, just one last word. Who told you that Pistacia chinensis, Chinese pistache was a native to Texas? Read this Dave's Garden forum on the plant for some comments on its invasiveness. It originated in (guess where?) China. Here is an article from Texas Invasives.org on the problems this tree can cause.

 

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