The Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is one of the most iconic figures of the Deep South. Mentioning the words Live Oak invokes all sorts of romantic nostalgia of yesteryear and the reputation is not unearned. In fact, many Live Oaks still stand that were growing on American soil when the first English settlers set foot on Plymouth Rock. They are long-lived, picturesque trees that also happen to be nearly bulletproof in the landscape. Given these factors, it is not surprising that Live Oak is far and away the most common tree included in both residential and commercial landscapes in the Coastal South. However, even the venerable Live Oak is not without its problems; this article will discuss a few of the more common issues seen with this grand species.
Few conditions afflict live oak but when they do, improper planting or cultural practices are usually at play. Observing the following best management practices will go a long way toward ensuring the long-term health of a planted Live Oak:
- Remember to always plant trees a little higher than the surrounding soil to prevent water standing around the trunk or soil piling up around it, both of these issues frequently cause rot to occur at the base of the tree.
- If planting a containerized tree, remember to score the rootball to prevent circling roots that will eventually girdle the tree. If planting a B&B (Balled and Burlap) specimen, remember to remove the strapping material from the top of the wire basket, failure to do this can also result in the tree being girdled.
Live Oak has few insect pests but there are some that prove bothersome to homeowners. The following are two of the most common pests of Live Oaks and how to manage them:
Galls are cancerous looking growths that appear on the leaves and twigs of Live Oak from time to time and are caused by gall wasps that visit the tree and lay their eggs inside the leaf or stem of the plant. The larvae hatch and emerge from the galls the following spring to continue the cycle. These galls are rarely more than aesthetically displeasing, however it is good practice to remove and destroy gall infected stems/leaves from younger trees as gall formation may cause some branch dieback or defoliation. Chemical control is rarely needed or practical (due to the very specific time the wasps are outside the tree and active) in a home landscape situation.
- Black Twig Borers can also be problematic. These little insects seldom kill a tree but their damage (reduction of growth and aesthetic harm) can be substantial. Infestations begin in the spring in Northwest Florida, with the female twig borer drilling a pen-head sized hole in a large twig or small branch and then laying her eggs in the ensuing cavity. She then transmits an ambrosia fungus that grows in the egg-cavity, providing food for the borer, other borer adults, and her offspring that take up residence and over-winter in the twig. The activity of the insects in the twig has an effect similar to girdling; the infected twig will rapidly brown and die, making removal and destruction of the infected branches a key component
In conclusion, though there are a few problems that can potentially arise with Live Oak, its premier status and continued widespread use in the landscape is warranted and encouraged. It should be remembered that, relative to most other candidates for shade trees in the landscape, Live Oak is extremely durable, long-lived, and one of most pest and disease free trees available. Happy growing!