What Is Destroying Oak Trees Throughout Western PA?

There it sits, the large, sturdy oak tree, a sign of strength and pride. Its large stoutly trunk and strong, powerful branches house mass quantities of round-shaped leaves and are vital to your Latrobe area landscape. Unfortunately, a disease ripping through western PA is destroying many of these beloved ornamentals. It’s called Oak wilt, and LawnRx is here to tell you everything you need to know about it, how to prevent it and what you can do if it has already occurred.

What Is Oak Wilt?

Oak wilt, Ceratocystis Fagacearum, is a fungal disease first reported in the United States in the early 1900s, originating from Latin America. The fungus is carried by beetles that feed on your oak tree’s sap. The fungus disrupts the trees’ vascular system, which cuts off its water and nutrient supply. The lack of nutrients and water causes leaf discoloration, wilting of the tree, and the leaves to fall off. Eventually, the disease will cause the oak tree to die.

Common Symptoms of Oak Wilt Disease

Oak trees are divided into two different groups, red oaks, and white oaks. Red oak and white oak species can be affected differently, with the disease process taking much longer in white oaks. If you see any of the following symptoms in your oak trees, your plants might be suffering from oak wilt. 

  • Leaves curling up 
  • Discoloration in leaves to light green, bronze, or tan color, beginning at the edges and moving in towards the center of each leaf
  • Brown or black stain in the sapwood of wilted branches
  • Vertical cracks in the bark of the tree that have mats of fungus spores underneath
  • Quick defoliation of the tree, even in late summer
  • In white oaks, leaves will turn light brown or straw-colored, with discoloration moving from the tip of the leaf to the base
  • In white oaks, leaves will also curl up but usually won’t fall off the tree branches

How Does Oak Wilt Spread in Latrobe?

Oak wilt is spread in a variety of ways making it harder to treat. These include:

Sap Beetles
Oak wilt is carried by an invasive beetle called Nitidulids, commonly referred to as sap beetles. When an oak tree is pruned during the active growing season, it emits an odor similar to the smell of stale beer. This unique smell attracts sap beetles which then feed off the fungus on the top of the bark. The fungal spores stick to their tiny bodies infecting every tree they fly to, hereafter infecting each tree as they go.

Underground Transmission
If you were to look underground, you would see that the roots of most trees are large, spreading out like spider webs and reaching in all directions. When an infected oak tree’s roots intermingle with the roots of an unaffected tree, it sends out shockwaves not only infecting the roots of the tree it touches, but all oak trees surrounding it. The only time a tree is not in danger is when it is completely dormant.

Moving Firewood
Have you ever heard the saying, “don’t move firewood?” This is because fungi stay on wood long after it has been cut and, when moved from one place to another, it simply provides new infection sources.

Ways to Prevent Oak Wilt

The first and most important defense against any fungal disease is making sure your trees and shrubs are healthy and well-nourished. The healthier your plants are, the better they will be able to defend themselves from pests and diseases like oak wilt. Invest in a comprehensive tree and shrub care program like the one offered by LawnRx, which will provide much-needed fertilizer and help keep disease-spreading pests off of your plants.

Only Ever Trim or Prune During Winter

Only prune your oak trees when the trees are dormant during the winter. Here in PA, that is typically between November and March. Pruning during the growing season can make your trees highly susceptible to oak wilt. This is because those highly destructive sap beetles we talked about earlier are more active during this time. The only time you should trim your oak trees is after their leaves have fallen off, or after the first hard frost. 

If you must cut branches or limbs for some reason, call in a professional or seal all wounds with a tree wound dressing or latex paint. You can purchase either at most home improvement stores. Remember, when pruning any tree, it is essential to clean your tools with alcohol or bleach between cuts properly.

Once Oak Wilt Is Discovered

Oak wilt is often confused with many other tree-related diseases. If you believe one or any of your oak trees has oak wilt, it’s important to have it correctly diagnosed. If caught early, disrupting root grafts and removing branches may help. If the damage is extensive, the tree will probably have to be removed. And because of underground transmission, all root connections must be severed to protect any uninfected oak trees surrounding it.

Protect Your Oak and Other Cherished Lawn Ornaments With Tree and Shrub Care From LawnRx Now

LawnRx is your go-to lawn care company for all your tree and shrub care needs. Our tree and shrub care experts are licensed by the PA Department of Agriculture and expertly trained. Our tree and shrub care service is second to none and offers all of the components of a highly effective program, including fertilization, disease control, and insect control. If you believe your oak trees are in danger or are looking to protect them and your other beloved lawn ornaments, call LawnRx now. You can reach us at 724-539-1003, or you can find us online now. Your prescription to healthy trees and shrubs is just a phone call or click away.

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