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Mr. Smarty Plants - Treating suspected drought-stressed live oak

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Wednesday - July 13, 2011

From: Harlingen, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Treating suspected drought-stressed live oak
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

I have a live oak with excessive leaf drop - it was planted approx. 20 year ago surrounded by heavy pavers. very little grass - I did not plant the tree - I have noticed in the last few years the drop increases - the oaks I have in the back yard only shed during the winter, we have long hot summers. I can removed the pavers. Thank you

ANSWER:

There is no question that even old, well-established trees are going to need some extra help during the kind of drought we are having right now. If the pavers around your tree are set close together, water permeation may be sharply curtailed.  Mr. Smarty Plants recommends that you remove as many of the pavers as possible, right out to the drip line of the tree. Replace the pavers with 2-3 inches of mulch to slow the evaporation of soil water.

Many trees have been saved in past droughts by additional  watering in late summer. As the underlined article suggests, professional arborists suggest deep watering, and the amount of water applied would depend on your soil type, e.g., rocky or clay.  The trees might also benefit from additional fertilization.  Furthermore, trees suffering from drought stress are often more susceptible to insect and fungal attack.

This University of Illinois Extension website Dealing with the Drought affirms that watering even drought-resistant trees like the oak is essential. It points out that a 90 ft. oak tree will be a lot worse to lose than annual flowers or vegetables. We don't recommend watering at the base of the trunk, but watering farther out, with a hose or sprinklers, probably about every two weeks. An excerpt from this website will tell you why:

"Our 90-foot oak example could have roots at least 40 feet beyond the tree’s
drip-line. The same goes for most shrubs. So, apply water at the tree or
shrub’s drip-line, not at the trunk."

Those roots may be pretty deep, and part of the protection of the trees, but much of the root system is in the top 12 inches of the soil. So, putting the water out there helps to avoid fungus and rot at the base of the trunk.

 

From the Image Gallery


Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

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