Oak Wilt: A Silent Killer Of Trees

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow" is a popular saying. It means that big things can come from very small ones. But did you know that something very small can take down a mighty oak? Sadly, that's what is happening in at least 24 states throughout the eastern and central United States. Oak wilt is a serious and aggressive disease that is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. When this fungus gets into the vascular system of a tree, it stops up its vessels and prevents the flow of water and nutrients. This, in turn, causes the tree's leaves to wilt -- hence the name of the disease. Not long thereafter, the leaves of the tree will begin to fall off, and it will eventually die. 

Trees Affected

Although all oak trees are susceptible to getting this deadly disease, red oaks are the ones most likely to be affected and to die from it. Chestnuts, chinkapins, tanoaks and some types of apple trees can also be infected by oak wilt.  

Symptoms of Oak Wilt

If you have a red oak tree that has been infected with the fungus, you may notice parts of its canopy suddenly turning a beige or a reddish hue. The tree may also suddenly begin dropping its leaves. In most cases, the tree will rapidly decline and then die. Interestingly enough, the disease has a somewhat different appearance in live oak trees. In this tree, the midrib and side veins of its leaves will start to turn yellow or brown. These discolored leaves will then start falling off. While red oaks tend to die within a few months of catching this disease, live oaks may live anywhere between six months to many years of becoming infected. 

Managing Oak Wilt

If you suspect that you have trees affected with oak wilt in your yard, it's important to call in a tree service. If the service determines that your trees do have the fungus, you will need to establish a buffer zone of approximately 100 feet between trees that are infected and those that are healthy, according to Texas A & M. To do this, a trench that is about four-feet deep needs to be dug around infected trees so that their roots can't come in contact with those of healthy ones. Dead trees should also be removed or, if possible, burned in place to prevent the fungus from spreading. 

For more information, contact a business such as ISA Texas Chapter.