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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.

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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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Thursday - May 30, 2013

From: Matagorda, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Planting, Trees
Title: Leaves on new water oak turning brown from Matagorda TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We had water oaks planted in January when they had no leaves. Leaves came on but are now turning brown.

ANSWER:

As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map, Quercus laurifolia (Laurel oak) (also known as "water oak") is not recorded as growing natively in Matagorda County but does in nearby Victoria and Harris Counties. So, since it should be able to grow where you are, it is puzzling that it is losing its leaves. You planted it in the cooler part of the year, which we always recommend for woody plants, especially in Texas. Here are the growing conditions for this plant from our webpage on it in our Native Plant Database.

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained, sandy soils.
Conditions Comments: This species is closely related to Q. nigra and Q. phellos. It has no pest problems and is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions."

When we followed this plant link, Quercus laurifolia (Laurel oak), to our webpage on this plant, we found this statement:

"GROWTH FORM: semi-evergreen with leaves retained until the following spring."

You said the tree had no leaves on it when it was planted. According to the webpage and the timing of the planting, your tree should have still had some leaves on it when it was planted. Then, it put on leaves, which are now browning and possibly dying. The only reason we can think of for this strange behavior is transplant shock. Here is an article from Northscaping.com on Ten Tips to Avoid Transplant Shock.

We inferred from your statement that you had them planted that landscapers took care of installing your trees. We suggest you discuss this development with them and ask them to examine  the trees to see if they can suggest what went wrong.

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