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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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Saturday - October 05, 2013

From: Laurel, MS
Region: Southeast
Topic: Soils, Watering, Trees
Title: Problems with water oaks from Laurel MS
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

The leaves on my mature water oak trees have been falling since the leaves matured. My area has had an abundance of rain this year, 11 inches above normal. All the trees in my area are doing the same. Could this be a sign that a harsh winter may be coming?

ANSWER:

"Water Oak" is another common name for Quercus laurifolia (Laurel oak), according to our Native Plant Database. If you follow the plant link above to our webpage on this plant you will find these growing conditions:

"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."

On the same webpage was this information:

"Native Habitat: Moist soils of the southeastern coastal plain and associated with typical mesic hardwoods."

It would appear that your tree and probably the others in your area are accustomed to lots of rain and probably are in sandy soils, so hopefully the amount of rain is not affecting them adversely. We really have no idea if the leaf drop is predicting any kind of winter, but we found a number of articles (most of them classified as "folklore") with lists of indicators of a hard winter. Many of them were the exact same list:

Folklore - Predicting the Winter Ahead - this one actually contained this line: "Leaves drop before giving good  fall colors." Since the Quercus laurifolia (Laurel oak) is semi-evergreen and drops its leaves later in the winter, this might be more noticeable on that tree.

Farmer's Almanac - Twenty Signs of a Hard Winter

About.com - Winter Weather Folklore

20 Signs of a Hard Winter in 2014

The other websites we found either paraphrased, quoted, or repeated the exact same lists. We found no scientific indication that early leaf fall was indicative of winter conditions. So, we abandoned that and tried searching on "early tree leaf fall" and picked the following websites as examples:

Shade tree disorders

What's Happening When Your Leaves are Falling in Summer?

From Ohio State University Mid-Summer Leaf Drop

Bottom line: no good information one way or the other. Pick your theory, your guess is as good as anyone's; we will just have to wait and see.

Pictures of Quercus laurifolia (Laurel oak)


 

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