The Leaves Are Falling?
Somervell County Master Gardener
Autumn is the time of year when leaves wither and fall to the ground. We expect it, and some of us even look forward to the event. However, if you are noticing leaves dropping from your live oak trees now that we are anticipating spring, you may be having very different feelings. As Texas is experiencing the ravages of oak wilt, seeing any of our well-loved, prized beauties dropping their leaves to the ground can be concerning especially when we think of live oaks as being evergreen.
Live oak trees are not true evergreens, and it is normal for them to drop their old leaves in spring. Although oak wilt may attack live oaks in late winter or early spring, the symptoms of the fungus are usually not apparent until summer.
Signs of normal live oak leaf drop include yellowing of leaves and/or brown or black spots or blotches. Some leaves may even have veins that turn brown while the remainder of the leaf stays green. While these signs and symptoms may mimic oak wilt, they are typical of a spring time process called senescing – or the dying off of old leaves.
There are some things you can look for to determine if the leaf drop your live oaks are experiencing now is normal and healthy. Check the dying leaves for new buds at the leaf petiole. These new buds will start small then will grow as the older leaves die. Once the old leaves drop off you should see tiny new leaves develop. Seeing these signs should assure you that your tree is likely experiencing a normal yearly cycle. If, on the other hand, you do not notice the buds, check for dead branches by breaking a small stem on the tree. If it breaks with a snap and has a brown interior, the branch is most likely dead. Healthy trees will usually have some dead branches; however, if more than 10% of the branches of a tree are dead, you should seek the help and advice of your county Extension agent.
Ong, Dr. Mark. “Live Oaks Dropping Leaves.” Texas A & M Agrilife Extension. Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab, 24 March 2008 Web. 3 February 2020.