Oak Wilt: What is it & What Does It Do To Your Trees?
Many people have heard of oak wilt, yet they don’t really know what it is. Understanding that oak wilt is a negative thing for trees to contract isn’t difficult, but it helps if you have a firm grasp on this condition, the signs that it’s taking hold of your tree, and know how to manage it.
Oak Wilt Explained
As you can probably guess from the name, oak wilt is a condition that affects oak trees. It’s most severe for red oak species, although it can affect white oak species, but usually not as profoundly.
The condition is a fungal infection of a tree. If left unchecked, it can ultimately lead to the death of a tree, which can be quite expensive to replace. Not only that, your trees provide valuable shade, beautification for your yard, and even add to the value of your property.
You should be watching for any of the following symptoms, which can indicate your tree has contracted oak wilt:
- Discolored leaves on one or more branches
- Wilting leaves
- Heavy defoliation (leaves falling off the branches)
- Darkened sap
- One or more dead/dying branches
- Fungal mats developing under the bark
That final symptom usually only manifests once the infection is pretty far along.
How it Spreads
Insects, especially sap beetles, are the main way oak wilt spreads from tree to tree. Fungal spores attach to the beetles, so when they land on other trees and burrow into the bark, the fungus can infect a new host. For that reason, you can help prevent the spread of oak wilt by treating areas where you’ve pruned the tree, or the bark has been damaged by accidents, weather, etc. Also, avoid, pruning your trees when the weather is warm, particularly in the late spring and early summer.
Even if your oak is free of insects, because you’ve been managing any damage properly, it can still contract oak wilt. Root grafts, or when roots from neighboring trees attach to each other under the ground, can also be a source of the infection. The fungus will travel into the roots of a host, and from there can be introduced to other trees through the graft.
Curing Oak Wilt
This condition can move quickly, so you must act swiftly to avoid the death of your tree. Red oak can die within several months after becoming infected, making vigilance key.
You can spray for insects, taking away the most common means of the fungus spreading. Breaking any root grafts will help as well. Soil fumigation can help with breaking tree root connections if you’re unsuccessful with mechanical attempts.
Once a tree is infected, you might be able to prune out the affected area and stop the spread of the fungus. If the tree is a total loss, you must be careful about when and how you remove it, or you might spread the fungus spores.
The best way to prevent oak wilt and manage any trees showing symptoms is by getting professional help.