live oaks dying

tommy54April 29, 2014

what can I do to try to save my two 50 year plus old live oaks I had a driveway put in 08/12 its a circle drive that goes around both trees with about a 25ft island of soil around them it didn't seem to bother them the first year or the second till now they shed their leaves like always and bloomed real big and got all their new leaves and now all of a sudden the leaves are starting to fall off and they have brown splothes on them and some are yellow and some are still green they are falling off in an alarming rate is there anything at all I can do to save them they are beautiful massive trees any help would be appreciated thanks Tommy

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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Tommy I am so sorry - that is a tough thing to have happen. Where are you? Right now in Sonoma County we're seeing a lot of oak moth (Phyranidia californica) which causes a lot of trouble, although it mostly manifests itself as chewed up leaves which then turn brown. The best suggestion that I have is to immediately call an ISA certified arborist to come out and look at your trees. Q. agrifolia (coast live oak) doesn't like to have its soil/drainage disturbed and you really want to see if the driveway excavation caused the problem and if there is something that you can do about it. It is probably getting too late in the year to irrigate due to the risk of fungal pathogens, but again, an arborist is your best bet to provide advice. Trees respond to insults slowly, so the fast that this is happening three years later might still mean that it is a result of the excavation.

Good luck - Sara

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 9:50PM
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thanks for responding I live in jacksonville florida I have a couple more smaller live oaks in the back that seem fine and the next door neighbor has a big one also that has no problems either I just wonder if I water the trees more around the trunks if it might help or if it might hurt I know there is alot of root mat around there Im afraid an arborist might just come out for the money never delt with one before dont know how they charge thanks Tommy

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:54PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

If you could get a referral to someone that would be best. You can water in the summer there (we can't) so it may be that supplemental water will help. ISA certified arborists are professionals with standards - not unlike doctors. Check for ISA certified arborists in your area and call one/several and see what they say. Some will consult for no fee but realistically you want to pay them for their expertise. Their knowledge is what would be important here, not their services (pruning, fertilizing, etc). With trees this significant I would make the investment. It does sound like the excavation is the problem...

Keep the faith -


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 11:08PM
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Here's what one ISA certified arborist says (my pal Howard)-

Sick Tree Treatment

Trees become infested with insect pests and diseases because they are in stress and sick. Mother Nature then sends in the clean up crews. Insects and pathogens are just doing their job - trying to take out the unfit plants. Most plant sickness is environmental - too much water, not enough water, too much fertilizer, wrong kind of fertilizer, toxic chemical pesticides, compaction of soil, grade changes, ill-adapted plant varieties and/or over planting single plant species and creating monocultures, as was done with American elms in the Northwest and the red oak/live oak communities in certain parts of the South.

My tree health plan is simple. Keep trees in a stress free condition so their immune systems can resist insect pests and diseases. For example - it has been noticed by many farmers and ranchers that oak wilt doesn’t bother some trees - especially those that have properly exposed root flares, and those where the natural habitat under trees has been maintained. The Sick Tree Treatment is not just good for oak wilt, but for any other tree problem as well. Here is the updated version and how it works:

Sick Tree Treatment

Step 1: Stop Using High Nitrogen Fertilizers and Toxic Chemical Pesticides
Toxic chemical pesticides kill beneficial nematodes, other helpful microbes, good insects, and also control the pest insects poorly. Synthetic fertilizers are unbalanced, harsh, high in salt, often contaminated and destructive to the chemistry, the physics and the life in the soil. They also feed plants poorly and contaminate the environment.
Step 2: Remove Excess Soil from the Root Flare
A very high percentage of trees are too deep in their containers and also have been planted too low or have had fill soil or eroded soil added on top of the root flares. Soil on top of the root flare reduces oxygen availability and leads to circling and girdling roots. Soil, or even heavy mulch on trunks, keeps the bark constantly moist which can rot or girdle trees. Ideally, excess soil and circling and girdling roots should be removed before planting. Removing soil from the root flares of existing trees should be done professionally with a tool called the Air Spade. Homeowners can do the work by hand with a stiff broom or brush. Gentle water and a shop-vac can be used if done very carefully. Vines and ground covers should also be kept off tree trunks. They should actually be pruned back away from the flares, at least on an annual basis.

Step 3: Aerate the Root Zone Heavily
Don’t rip, till or plow the soil. That destroys all the feeder roots. Punch holes (with turning forks, core aerators or agriculture devices such as the Air-Way) heavily throughout the root zone. Liquid injectors and the Air Spade can also be used. Start between the drip line and the trunk and go far out beyond the drip line. Holes 6-8" deep are ideal, but any depth is beneficial.

Step 4: Apply Organic Amendments
Apply zeolite 40-80 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft., greensand at about 40-80 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft., lava sand at about 80-120 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft., horticultural cornmeal at about 20-30 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. and dry molasses at about 10-20 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. Cornmeal is a natural disease fighter and molasses is a carbohydrate source to feed the microbes in the soil. Expanded shale applied at 1/2 " is also very helpful if the budget allows this step. Apply a 1" layer of compost followed by a 3" layer of shredded native tree trimmings; however, do not pile mulch up on the root flare or the trunk. Smaller amounts of these materials can be used where budget restrictions exist. Also, any rock dust material different than the base rock on the site will help.

Step 5: Spray Trees and Soil
Spray the ground, trunks, limbs, twigs and foliage of trees with compost tea or the entire Garrett Juice mixture. Do this monthly or more often if possible. For large-scale farms and ranches, a one-time spraying is beneficial if the budget doesn’t allow ongoing sprays. Adding garlic oil tea or cornmeal juice to the spray is also beneficial for disease control while the tree is in trouble. Cornmeal Juice is a natural fungal control that is made by soaking horticultural or whole ground cornmeal in water at 1 cup per 5 gallons of water. Screen out the solids and spray without further dilution. Cornmeal Juice can be mixed with compost tea, Garrett Juice or any other natural foliar feeding spray. It can also be used as a soil drench for the control of soil borne diseases. Dry granulated garlic can also be used on the soil in the root zone at about 1-2 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for additional disease control. Adding Bio Wash to the spray is also helpful against insect pests and disease pathogens.

During drought conditions, adding soil moisture is a critical component.

-Howard Garrett

P.S.- "Garrett Juice" is a recipe he came up with, and is made by several companies and can be home-made. He's not receiving any royalties from it. If you did nothing else, this stuff is awesome for new transplants/stressed trees. I've used it several times before, but since I've gone organic years ago, I never seem to have any disease issues. No pests, nothing. I grow lots of fruit trees. Of course, in your case, it is almost certain that the driveway excavation is the cause of your problems. M

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 11:19

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 11:18AM
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PPS- Howard was the person responsible for saving the 800 year old, record-sized pecan here in DFW, a few years back. It is thriving now. The farmer let's people come on his private land to see it. M

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 11:32AM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

I listen to the Davis Garden Show. One of the things they repeat is that valley oaks (another Quercus species) which have a lawn planted around them die, while oaks planted in a lawn live. The second grows up with irrigation, the first cannot adapt to it.

Cutting the roots and changing the watering sounds related.

I'd get an arborist to come and set your irrigation schedule.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 11:32AM
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Hopefully this driveway has not been blacktopped. Live oaks are very sensitive to excavation and/or pressure anywhere near their extensive underground feeder root system.
Although the following suggestion is controversial if researched I have personally seen it save numerous old live oaks which have been stressed. I am referring to a 'fertilizer/mycorrhizal' soil injection treatment which should be well known by your area arborists. Make some phone calls. Ask questions. Trees should be seen by a pro and problem evaluated PDQ.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 3:47PM
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I assume these are Southern live oaks. Just because new foliage has been produced doesn't mean there aren't plenty of old leaves left to drop. The rate of defoliation can differ from yard to yard, and tree to tree. Many people in Central Texas are still raking leaves. I hope construction of the new driveway didn't result in fresh dirt being heaped around the trunks. In any event, I would water the dickens out of these trees.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 4:54PM
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talked to our dept. of agriculture master gardner today and he says its a fungus called leaf curl probably from all the rain we had this spring just hope its not too severe of a case if not he said they should pull out of it on their own keeping fingers crossed will let everybody know how it turns out thanks to everyone Tommy

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 7:43PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Tommy, please don't take the advice of a master gardener over the skilled expertise of an ISA Certified arborist. Please!

I've seen Live Oaks brought from the brink of death from construction damage with mycorrhizal treatments, as Nandina has informed you. That's certainly an option to keep in mind. But your arborist must evaluate the site, the history of the damage, and the extent of the damage before he or she can decide if there's hope.....or not.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 8:09PM
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correction its called oak leaf blister , Tommy

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 8:13PM
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