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Wednesday - April 27, 2011

From: Winston-Salem, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Live Oak Leaf Drop in North Carolina
Answered by: Mike Tomme


We planted a 15 foot, approx. 3" caliber live oak tree last summer and it seemed very healthy throughout our unusually cold winter in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. (Winston-Salem). Now it's late April, the leaves have dropped and there seems to be no new growth. We have about 3-4" of mulch around the tree and the season so far has been very wet, so I don't think water is the issue. The tree is bare, with 'nodules' at the ends of the twigs/branches that I thought were buds. When I try to break off a twig, it is very green. I did insert 2 tree/plant spikes in early March about 4 feet away from the trunk. Thanks for your help.


I suspect your live oak is Quercus virginiana (Coastal live oak). These trees are usually thought of as evergreens, but they actually shed their leaves every spring. In most cases, the leaf drop happens at the same time as new leaves come out, so the tree usually never goes bare (although it may lose color and appear less healthy). It may be that your cold winter has delayed the new leaves coming out, resulting in a bare tree.

Two pieces of advice:

First, be patient. The fact that you see green when you break a twig is good. That indicates the limb is alive. The "nodule" you describe very likely is a bud.

Second, look around. Are the other live oaks you see in a similar condition? If yours is significantly less leafed out than the others, it may be time to call in a professional arborist.

Quercus virginiana



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