En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
8 ratings

Wednesday - April 06, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Sprouts from Live Oak in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have an Escarpment Live Oak..quercus fusiformis.? I get tired of all the sprouts that come up around this tree..My yard person wants to pull them up or get a roto tiller after them..? I had been told just to cut them off a ground level and live with it..?? Please help me put an end to my argument with "exspert" yard worker.


First and foremost, NO ROTOTILLER!! That would almost surely do some damage to the tree itself, and to the roots of the Quercus fusiformis (Escarpment live oak). This is not the time to be doing any kind of damage to a tree, and most especially to a Live Oak. That damage would then make your tree very susceptible to the Nitulidid beetle, whose line of work is to visit the sap from damaged trees for a bite to eat. He doesn't really mean to, but he is a prime spreader of Oak Wilt, the bane of all oaks, but most especially of Live Oaks and Red Oaks, and even more especially in the Austin area, where arborists all over town are struggling to contain it, as there is no cure. When the beetle discovers the lovely sap you have provided him, he will drop in for another bite and, since he is carrying the fungus on his body that causes Oak Wilt from the last eating establishment he visited, he will infect your tree. This beetle is active in all but the very hottest and very coldest times of the year, which is why we recommend pruning only between about November 15 and January 15.

You are not the first person, nor will you be the last, to ask us about this problem. It is a trait of the Live Oak. In the wild, the tree will eventually form a motte, which is all those little sprouts (well not all, they won't ALL survive) grown up to be Live Oaks, too. This is not good, of course, in a residential situation, and, worse, Oak Wilt can travel through those intertwined roots-one tree in that motte gets infected and they are all infected. If the oak tree is in grass the sprouts can be mowed. This won't kill them, but it makes it look nicer. .

From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants Question:

Sorry, but the only safe way to get rid of those sprouts is to cut them off. You can dig down and cut them off below ground. They will still return but it will take them a little longer to come back out again than if you cut them off at or above the surface. Any sort of herbicide you might use will affect the growth of the parent tree and I'm sure you don't want that to happen. According to John Begnaud, horticulturist, writing in Go San Angelo:

"To date, there are no repellants, hormones or chemical sprays that reliably suppress or remove thse suckers without harming the mother trees. Hand grubbing or deeproot pruning can reduce these suckers for a few years at best and then they will return."

You can read the answer to a previous question concerning the problem of live oak sprouts.

Now, as to your disagreement with your landscaper. Who's in charge there? If he can't, or won't, clip off those suckers, get yourself a long-handled pruning nipper, so you don't have to crawl along the ground. Get as far below the soil as you can, and clip off those sprouts. Just keep after it, make it a habit, because they will come back.



More Trees Questions

Cotonwood fluff in Kansas
May 23, 2010 - Two weeks ago my yard, deck pond became covered in seeds/leaves not sure what it is but it looks like oatmeal. Any idea what plant it might come from.
view the full question and answer

Identity of wild plum in Childress County, Texas
March 16, 2015 - I have a Wild Plum follow up question. My wife grew up around the Childress TX area. She remembers going around the creeks and gathering Wild Plums for her mother as a child. Would you have any ide...
view the full question and answer

Replacement for trees destroyed by Hurricane Ike
March 28, 2009 - We had a 23 year old elm tree in our front yard that was uprooted from Hurricane Ike (about 50 feet tall)..can you tell us what the replacement costs for that would be? Also we had a 20 foot live oak ...
view the full question and answer

Oak leaf hydrangeas from Edwardsville IL
August 13, 2012 - Hello, I live in West Central Illinois (across the river from St. Louis) and I am considering planting several Oak leaf Hydrangea's in my yard. The location where I would like to plant them is und...
view the full question and answer

Native conifer bearing evergreen for noise reduction
April 01, 2008 - I asked the prior question about noise reduction and you gave me several choices. Thank you for that. Of the plants you suggested, the wax myrtle is the tallest and therefore probably best for my 2-st...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center