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Many oak trees struggling, but AgriLife experts say don’t give up just yet

Many oak trees struggling, but AgriLife experts say don’t give up just yet

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Many oak trees across the state have yet to leaf out this spring, but Texas A&M experts say it is best to be patient for now since many of the oaks are recovering from February’s winter storm.

Cutting down the barren trees is not recommended at this point since there is still a chance that the trees are alive and will bloom next year, according to AgriLife Today. Trees can stand firm and remain safe for years after they die.

Trees that still have no leaves by mid-July are definitely dead, Gretchen Riley, Urban and Community Forestry Program leader at Texas A&M Forest Service, told AgriLife Today. However, those that at some point between now and then exhibit any growth — even a small, poor showing of leaves — may be fine by next year. 

“The best thing to do with mature trees is nothing,” Riley said to AgriLife Today. “Trees are very sensitive to change. And many of these mature trees may be a hundred years old.

They’ve done really well without us. They’ve done their best to adapt to living around us, and most things that we would go in and do to them now are more stressful to them than helpful.”

Another reason to hold off on replacing barren trees, AgriLife Today points out, is spring is not an ideal time to plant trees in Texas; fall and early winter are better.

Owners should avoid overwatering their trees, but a supplemental watering once or twice may be beneficial since this year may have abnormally high heats, said Courtney Blevins, a Fort Worth forester who spent about four decades with Texas A&M Forest Service. 

Even though many tree owners may want to try using insecticide and fungicide since stressed trees are more susceptible to disease and infestation, Blevins and Riley said in AgriLife Today that preventative treatments like that are not encouraged and that any infestation and disease must be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Neil Sperry, a Texas gardening and horticulture expert known across the state, told AgriLife Today that he is surprised by the variability, and the scope, of damage that resulted from the freeze. AgriLife Today states that followers of Sperry’s Facebook page submitted more than 2,000 photos of oak trees of all varieties and species in each region of the state with problems.

“I have been in this business professionally since 1970, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sperry said in the article. “We think of oaks as permanent as concrete and steel, and for them to selectively be affected by this freeze is particularly odd.”

Many of the trees that are barren may have been struggling before Winter Storm Uri in February. Riley said it has been a tough decade for trees, noting that in 2011 there was an unprecedented drought in Texas that killed millions of trees. 

Riley also said in AgriLife Today that delayed leafing out is likely happening because the freeze interrupted the tree’s natural physiological process, as there is one point in the budding process in which trees are especially susceptible to freeze damage

AgriLife Today points out that temperatures reached as high as 80 degrees across the state right before February’s freeze. Warm temperatures usually cause trees to start the process of budding out, and in Texas late February is when many trees leaf out.

“That super freeze froze back a lot of those buds that were about to open up,” Blevins said. “Now, the trees that were preparing to bud out have to generate a whole new set of buds to leaf out, and that takes time.”

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