En Español

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

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
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - April 28, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pests, Trees
Title: Pruning live oak in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Hi, We recently purchased a house in South Austin and there is a huge Live Oak Tree about 6 feet from the back door (so so so love it!) The only real issues I have so far are: 1. Needing to trim a few bigger dead branches (about 24 foor high where they come off a bigger branch directly over where people would be if we had company over) before it just falls off on some one. After reading other post on this site I see it is not good to trim an Oak between Feb and June, so I guess I can wait till July when the real heat is on and do it (and paint seal it) my question is if it just snaps/breaks off on its own should I go paint/seal it as soon as I see that it fell? Might be hard as I have no way of reaching it to do so with out leaning on the rest of the dying branch. Which will probably break as well.. Or (if it breaks) should I just go ahead and trim it since it is already exposed and paint it then so I don't have to do it again in a few months and risk double exposure? 2. There are many Suckers popping up all over, right outside our door, and in between 2 small slabs of concrete, some are already getting over a foot high, If I do not weed-eat them down, at some point my dogs will chew on them and break the bark on them any way, is there a good way of handling this?


The first thing we would recommend is that you engage a licensed arborist to make these decisions. He will have ladders, proper pruning equipment and pruning paint. We realize that is not free but, compared to the value of your live oak and the expenses of a broken leg, we believe it's the best way to go.

The rule on pruning live oaks is that if the branch is larger around than your thumb, you should paint it with pruning paint. Those suckers in the ground should be nipped off with pruning shears very close to the ground. They will keep coming up, but just persevere. Do not, please, use a weedeater around the tree, ever. Damage to the bark, especially during the times of year when the Nitulidid beetle is active, could quickly cause a sap leakage that would invite the beetle over for a drink. And that beetle might very well already have had a drink at another wounded oak where Oak Wilt was already present, the fungus would stick to the body of the beetle and would infect your tree.

It sounds like your problem mostly is deferred maintenance on the tree (that is, those dead branches). If the arborist you bring in thinks the maintenance can wait until a safer time of year, be sure and do it when the right time comes. After that, taking care of anything like that immediately will keep you from having such a major problem again. It would be a good idea to read the information on Texasoakwilt.org.


More Pests Questions

Viburnum Leaf Beetle Damage to Native Viburnums
February 02, 2016 - Dear Friends, I am an officer of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, a Staten Island, NY land conservation organization which also involves itself in forest restoration and invasive species control projects...
view the full question and answer

What flowers will ducks and swans not eat?
January 11, 2009 - I live by ducks and swans. They love eating my flowers. Any suggestions on what flowering plants they won't eat?
view the full question and answer

Insect infestation, identification and treatment
April 21, 2008 - help! I have an infestation of small flies in my flower/vegetable beds. They seem to be eating the leaves of just about everything. I've tried to find out exactly what they are, but haven't had any ...
view the full question and answer

Tulip tree with white spots on leaves in Mississippi
July 31, 2008 - I have a tulip tree in my yard that blooms in the spring that is about 10-15 years old. However just this past week or so we have noticed that there is lots of white spots on the leaves and the branc...
view the full question and answer

Eliminating wood roaches from hardwood mulch from San Antonio TX
February 05, 2013 - How can I eliminate the numerous wood roaches in my hardwood mulch that I get for free from the city of San Antonio?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center