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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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Wednesday - September 21, 2011

From: Abilene, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Live oak trees with rusty spots and holes on tree trunks
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have live oak trees that have developed rusty spots, small holes on the tree trunks and sawdust on the trees base. They were planted in Oct 2010. We have had a hot dry summer in Texas this year and I am not sure if this is due to the extreme hot weather. Please advise.

ANSWER:

The principal disease associated with Quercus fusiformis (Escarpment live oak) is oak wilt.   As you can read on the species page on our Native Plant Database:

"...it is susceptible to live oak wilt and live oak decline when stressed by drought, so care must be taken to protect it from injury both aboveground and below ground to prevent infection."

Certainly, your trees have experienced the stress of extreme drought and high temperatures. I don't know if your trees are infected by oak wilt, but it is certainly possible.  You can see on this map from the Texas Oak Wilt webpage that Taylor County has been confirmed as having oak wilt.  You can see the characteristic leaf browning pattern associated with Texas oak wilt on the Texas Oak Wilt Information Partnership page. Contact the Taylor County Office of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service to see if you can arrange to have someone look at your trees to determine if you do have oak wilt.  You could also consult a professional arborist.  You can search for a Certified Arborist in Abilene on the International Society of Arboriculture page. The Texas Oak Wilt Information Partnership page has a wealth of information about diagnosing, treating and preventing oak wilt.

Another disease that can affect oak leaves is Tubakia (formerly known as Actinopelte) but it is usually a disease associated with wet years which certainly doesn't apply to this year.  For insect pests, you can read Insect Pests of Central Texas Forests to learn that nitidulid beetles are responsible for spreading the fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum, that causes oak wilt and that stressed trees are often attacked by wood borer insects and oak bark beetles. 

Whatever you trees are suffering from, there is no doubt that they have been seriously stressed by the heat and drought conditions.  You might also read "Continuing Severe Drought Conditions Will Seriously Harm Trees" from the Texas Forest Service.

 

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