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Oak Tree Wilt

Q: I live in town and would like to plant a red oak (probably in the Spring). But I'm a little concerned about Oak Wilt.

Do you think that in the next 10 to 20 years this disease will be eradicated or do you think that chances are low that an Oak in the city will become a victim?


A: I would not discourage you from planting a red oak. The probability of it becoming infected with oak wilt really is extremely low as the disease, at least in our area, is not wide-ranging.

If we were in Texas I'd be saying something different, as it is a problem there.

Oak wilt can transfer from tree to tree either via root grafts between a diseased tree and an un-diseased tree, or by the sap-feeding beetles that favor oak trees.

Although there are bark-feeding beetles that may vector the disease, it is believed the sap-feeders are the most likely carrier.

The key is to keep your tree as healthy as possible, and minimize wounding (which includes pruning). The sap-feeding beetles are attracted to freshly-damaged areas of the tree, and they are likely to be carrying the disease spores with them as they have previously visited infected trees!

Avoid pruning when the beetles are most active, which is typically April through June. In areas where oak wilt may be a factor to consider, I recommend pruning oaks during the dormant season.

This will allow the pruning cuts to "dry out" sufficiently so as not to attract the beetles. If for some reason you can't wait til late fall or winter, a light coating of tree paint may "hide" the smell of the fresh cut.

Oak wilt is not a major factor in the Cleveland area, although it has been detected, primarily on the West Side. After planting your red oak, be sure it's watered properly, fertilized when needed, and avoid any unnecessary pruning.

Also, keep an eye on neighboring red oaks for symptoms of oak wilt. Prompt removal of infected trees is key in helping to control this devastating disease.

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Tom Mugridge
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