Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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
4 ratings

Tuesday - September 27, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Watering, Trees
Title: New growth on live oaks in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My 2 10yr. old live oaks are putting out new growth (branches?) although, here in Houston, TX we are having such a drought. For the last 3 months, I have conscientiously watered my entire yard via sprinkler system every day, faithfully, to insure a green yard. Although last few wks, of course, I've had to resort to water rationing only 2 days wkly. Even now, each area of yard is watered 30 min/2 times wkly. Are the lives oaks putting out new growth due to stress, or has my daily watering done any good?

ANSWER:

By coincidence, we just answered a question on over-watering. Although it involved a different plant, we suggest you read this previous question. If you have natives to your area, which is what the Wildflower Center is all about, you have been overwatering them. We are thinking in the Houston area you probably have Quercus virginiana (Coastal live oak); this USDA Plant Profile map backs up that belief.

Our answer to your question kind of depends on where the new growth is appearing. If you are getting sprouts from the ground, these are sprouts from the roots of the tree. This is a common habit of live oaks, and yes, it is often a sign of stress in the parent plant. As the tree is having difficulty supporting itself in heat and drought, it sends out sprouts from the roots, which are protected in the soil, and are the storehouse for nutrition and water for the whole tree. These sprouts are basically new "branches," creating new leaves, which are the factories for food for the tree. Then, if the upper part of the tree begins to die from the environmental factors (which can also include wounds to the tree by equipment) those tiny branches from the roots will help to sustain the tree and provide it with sustenance to regrow. These sprouts are not desirable, as some of them will survive and grow larger, forming a "motte" of small trees. This is often seen in the wild, but is too large for residential gardens. Worse, those multiple intertwining roots can be a conduit for the dreaded Oak Wilt from one tree to another.

If the branches you are asking about come from the existing upper branches and trunk of the tree, that is probably just what they are-new branches. They are usually light gray and thin. As the live oak grows it is good to pay careful attention to pruning to eliminate weak crotches in new branches to strengthen the whole tree. Remember no pruning except from about November 15 to January 15, when the Oak Wilt fungus-carrying nitiludid beetle is dormant. Pruning of any branch larger around than your thumb should be followed by painting with wound paint.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Coastal live oak
Quercus virginiana

Coastal live oak
Quercus virginiana

Coastal live oak
Quercus virginiana

More Trees Questions

Planting Anacacho orchid tree in Llano, TX
October 05, 2011 - Re Bauhinia lunarioides: I'm trying to pick a good site in Llano Co for a 5 gal tree I received as a gift. Your plant database says part shade. The arid zone trees publication you reference in a...
view the full question and answer

Shade trees not toxic to dogs in Kempner TX
August 21, 2013 - Dear Mr Smarty Plants, we are looking for shade trees to plant around our home in Kempner, Tx. I saw another family that asked a similar question but we have dogs and holly or oak trees are toxic (my...
view the full question and answer

Tree that successfully treats psoriasis
January 31, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty plants,I have a rather unusual question. Do you know of a tree/plant that you can grow in a container, looks like a conifer/evergreen, is green, has wispy looking branches, but when t...
view the full question and answer

How to tell the girls from the boys in wax myrtles (Morella cerifera)
May 14, 2010 - How would I be able to identify whether my wax myrtles are male or female plants? I was given two plants last fall (that came from a family members back yard) and the person who gave them to me didn'...
view the full question and answer

Is Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) really native to the Texas Hill Country?
October 12, 2010 - I had heard that the Ashe Juniper was not native to the hill country or even Texas. Is this true? What is their history? They sure make it hard for the elms and oaks to thrive. We have decided to re...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.