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I'm sure you've noticed some of the Oak trees around the area are browning and dropping their leaves early this year as they have from time to time in the past. Seems worse this year and it can't be for lack of rain. The universities in Nebraska and Iowa are researching the problem, but so far have not released their results. Here's what I know about it so far.

It could be urban stress, Oak Wilt, Anthracnose, or a mutation of a fungus called Tubakia--or something else.

Stress on Oak trees plays an important role in slow death. If you built a home around an Oak tree, it could take from 8 to 10 years so for the stress to show up. They just don't adapt to construction, fill dirt, or tampering too well--they grow too slow. Heavy machinery driving around the tree or any fill dirt can cause root damage and the tree to go into a slow, irreversable decline. Some don't care which is strange, but there is a treatment for urban stress called Cambistat. It's a liquid that you put around the base of the tree flair and it slows the growth of the canopy for 3 years which allows the roots to catch up and heal somewhat. Also, drilling a lot of holes around the tree's drip area and filling them with compost will help losen the soil and provide space for the roots to grow. I drilled about 1400, 2" wide holes and used the growth slowing solution two years ago, but so far, no luck.

Oak Wilt is a problem in the area, but Burr Oaks are somewhat resistant. They can be treated with a fungicide called Alamo after you determine you have wilt, but it requires a macro infusion into the tree flair and is costly. Red and other types of oaks are much more susceptible to Oak Wilt and have poor results once oak wilt is diagnosed. Only a sample sent to the labs at the University of Nebraska can tell what you have for sure. The Extension Office can also help.

Anthracnose is a fungus that isn't too dangerous to the trees and can be treated by spraying in the spring; however, anything that causes the leaves to drop early takes energy from the tree so it may not come back as strong next year.

Tubakia is a fungus that, from what I'm told, is becoming a problem in Nebraska and Iowa. Tubakia normally feeds on dead leaves etc. but seems to have mutated and is now attacking live Burr oaks. This weakens the tree and will eventually kill it. There is no cure as of yet, but the universities are looking into it and I'll report the findings when/if I get them. There is a spray for the regular Tubakia but must be done in the spring. Call your tree surgeon.

Anyway, please do a computer search for Oak Wilt, Tubakia, etc. and find a good tree surgeon to see what can be done for your problem. You may find the people in Minnesota that I've talked with and spent a lot of money with over the years.

Rick Croasdale

Date Published: -0-8--2009