En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - August 25, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Theory for live oak shoots from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


More on preventing suckers from coming up around live oaks in Austin. I too have been puzzled - why some live oaks have shoots, and not others. Posting here says different varieties have suckers. A friend gave me "an" answer I like, but would like verified by experts. If the "shoulder", "flare", or wider part where the trunk meets the roots is exposed, then few shoots. If the "shoulder" is buried with too much soil, then many shoots. True?


Mr. Smarty Plants is not the "see-all, knows-all, tells-all" expert on all things plants but we do try to find expert information to pass on to our readers. We are, in short, conduits of information, not sources. Apparently you have already been following our answers on live oak suckers/sprouts/words we don't repeat, so you know our basic response to these questions, but will add a link to previous answers for others. We can't verify the answer you heard about. When we tried, again, by searching the Internet, we got a lot of forums, which feature personal experience or opinion by other gardeners, and often find ourselves there, too. So, rather than go to a forum for personal experience, please consider our theory on this very common problem.

We understand the area of the tree you are referring to; one of our frequently used answers to why a tree puts up suckers is that the tree has been damaged in some way, and the suckers are auxiliary locations for leaves, which manufacture food for the main plant. There is a very good possiblity that dirt too high on the base of the tree can be damaging to that tree. We always recommend that dirt or mulch not be piled up against a tree trunk as it can lead to insects or fungi moving in on the tree. If we had a live oak with that kind of "dirt pile," we would remove it just for the health of the tree. Whether or not that would reduce the production of suckers we simply don't know.

Notice in the illustrations we have provided below that there are several trees growing together, in the wild. These represent a motte, a common way that live oaks grow in the wild. The suckers that come up and survive grow into smaller trees. Often there are very large mottes, which are attractive from a distance but too much for a residential location, and sometimes lead to the spread of Oak Wilt via the proximity of roots from other, infected, roots.

Killing oak sprouts






From the Image Gallery

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

Escarpment live oak
Quercus fusiformis

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Failure to thrive of trees in Savage MN
August 23, 2009 - I have a 20+ year old weeping willow. The last few years it is the last tree to get its leaves and the first to lose them. The few leaves that are still on the tree are covered with brown/black spots....
view the full question and answer

Pecan tree dropping dead leaves
August 02, 2014 - I have a very old, tall pecan tree in my yard that has been dropping dead leaves for the last three weeks. My back yard looks like it is the Fall season. Do you have any insight on this?
view the full question and answer

Brown dead spots on arborvitae in Hillsboro OR
October 12, 2009 - Hello. I live in Hillsboro, OR and have several mature arborvitae as a privacy screen in my backyard. They are on our side of a black chainlink fence separating our yard from a drainage area maintaine...
view the full question and answer

White fungus-like growths on plants from Stephenville TX
May 25, 2013 - What is a white fungus-like growth on plants in a garden? It can be seen on the ground in ball-like shapes similar to puff balls or on plants
view the full question and answer

Mildew in Phlox paniculata
October 13, 2008 - I planted garden phlox (phlox paniculata) in my front landscaping and it is suffering from mildew. It is wet on that side due to a down spout and it may benefit from being split. Does anyone know of...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center