Oak wilt is a serious problem in central Texas. It kills neighborhoods worth of trees at a time. Implementing control programs is crucial, but implementing programs to plant replacement trees is arguably more important. But, what kind of trees should be planted?
Lately, the popular choices have been wilt resistant oak species: bur oaks, chinquapin (cheenk-a-pen) oaks, monterrey oaks and lacey oaks. While these are all reputable trees, they are not without their own limitations. Bur and chinquapin oaks in their natural setting are found in river bottom areas where there is substantial water available in the underground tables. Planting these trees in the hill country or on a rocky slope is not a good idea without irrigation; even then, you are testing mother nature’s boundaries. Monterrey and lacey oaks are better adapted to rocky slopes and dry conditions, but you should know that these are not tall growing trees. Monterreys get a little taller than the laceys, but both max out around 15-20 feet. And, their life span is relatively short as well. Depending on planting conditions, you should expect 20-40 years. Maybe that’s long enough for you, but come on, you are going through all the trouble to plant a tree; why not plant something that will grace the neighborhood long after you move on.
My favorite trees to plant are the natives, even the ones people shun because of oak wilt susceptibility. Live oaks and red oaks are two of the best adapted varieties of trees for the central Texas area, but many people write them off because of oak wilt. The reality is that transplanted oaks generally don’t graft roots with the natives and will survive an oak wilt onslaught. Cedar elms are another good choice for central Texas, and these trees are hardy to a large variety of growing conditions.
Live oaks and red oaks are the best trees for the area. It’s bad enough that oak wilt is killing them. We don’t the to make the problem worse by failing to replant these spectacular species. Basing your planting selection on one single tree disease is succumbing to evil’s trickery. Just because a tree is tolerant of oak wilt, doesn’t mean it won’t have other problems. And, oak wilt control is getting better all the time. With the digital age upon us, documentation and our knowledge base is improving. Mark my words, one day soon, we will be able to effectively treat and control oak wilt. Help restore our oak forests by planting new live oaks and red oaks today.