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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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Sunday - May 05, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Holes in trunk of Monterey Oak in Austin, TX.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

My Monterrey Oak (about 4 in diameter) has a problem. It started budding out and had a few leafs, then just quit. It had what I thought was new buds that would develop, but didn't. Then, the existing leafs died. There are two siblings in my neighbor's yard that were started from at the same time as mine - about 3 years ago, as small home grown trees - and they seem to be OK. My tree has what looks like some kind of bore holes that are fairly evenly spaced in a horizontal line extending at least 1/2 way around the circumference. These are at 3-4 different heights on the trunk. My neighbor's trees have similar holes, but their trees apparently haven't been affected. There are several fresh growths about 5 inches high coming up around the base of my tree. Those look perfectly healthy. Is there anything I can do to help my tree recover, or is it too late?

ANSWER:

Lets address the evenly spaced holes around the trunk of your  oak tree first. These are the signature sign of the yellow-bellied sap sucker, a member of the woodpecker family. This may sound like a made-up name, but there are 2 species that are native to Texas.
Here are some links to help you become better acquainted with this pretty pest.
   dirtdoctor.com

    allaboutbirds.org

    USDA 

The holes can provide entry point for fungi or insects that can cause significant injury to the the tree. The fresh growth around the tree’s base are termed water sprouts or suckers which are sometimes caused by stress to the tree.

My suggestion is to have  someone who knows about trees look at the situation and make an assessment of your next steps. This someone could be from the Austin City Arborist, the Travis County Office of AgriLife Extension  or the the Texas Forest Service.

 

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