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No. It’s Not Dead. Why is my Live Oak Dropping Leaves? Should I Worry?

It happens every January and February-the leaves on your live oak drop to the ground and causes a mess. Each year you think your tree is dying, but it doesn’t. Instead, it gets replenished with new, green leaves in the spring.

This is a naturally occurring process with live oak trees. Your tree isn’t losing its leaves because it is dead or dying, but it loses its old leaves to make room for new leaves. While most trees lose their leaves in the winter, live oak trees drop their leaves in January through February.

Live oaks are not true evergreens like other oaks are. They will drop their old leaves in the winter and regain new ones in the spring. The leaf drop usually occurs over 2-3 weeks. During this time, some live oaks may begin growing new leaves as the old ones fall off while others will begin growing their new leaves after the old ones have fallen.

Leaf drop is an indicator that the tree is dormant. The growth, metabolism, and energy and water consumption of trees decrease when they are dormant. Tree dormancy often happens throughout the winter months. You can think of dormancy as hibernation for trees. They partially shut down and conserve their energy until more favorable spring weather comes. Live oak trees come out of dormancy in the spring where their new, green leaves are noticeable.

When to Be Concerned

Leaf drop is also a symptom of disease or death. Like other trees, live oaks are susceptible to root rot, insect problems, and disease. When a live oak tree can no longer grow and sustain itself, it will begin dropping its leaves. Common live oak diseases include oak wilt, fungal leaf spotting, root rot, and insect problems.

Oak Wilt

Oak wilt is a disease that disrupts a tree’s xylem, or water-conducting system. Diseased trees can carry water from the roots throughout the tree, including the leaves. When leaves don’t get adequate water, they turn brown, die, and fall off the tree. Trees whose leaves have browning along the veins have oak wilt.

Fungal Leaf Spotting

This disease occurs when there is warm, moist air. Spores of the bacteria are carried by wind and rain and settle on wet plant surfaces including leaves. Oak trees with this fungal disease will produce leaves with black or brown spots or a uniform yellow “halo.” These spots may become so numerous that entire leaves can turn yellow and drop.

Insect Problems

Numerous insects eat and lay eggs in live oaks. Some of these problematic insects include oak leafrollers, longhorn beetles, flat-headed tree borers, and shot-hole borers. Some of these insects can severely damage the tree directly or spread diseases to the tree.

Root Rot

Live oaks are not tolerant of excessive soil moisture. Over-watering live oaks can cause fungus and disease to grow on the roots, leading to rotting roots. When the roots decay, the tree has no way of absorbing the water and nutrients it needs to survive.

Besides the leaf discoloration mentioned above, here are some other warning signs that your live oak tree isn’t healthy:

  • The tree loses leaves throughout the year
  • The tree’s “canopy” is thinning
  • The tree’s leaves begin to turn brown or yellow in the summer when they should be green

Let Earthworks Clean Up Your Leaf Drop and Keep Your Live Oaks Healthy

The annual live oak leaf drop can be unsightly and a nuisance to clean. The professionals at Earthworks will thoroughly clean up your oak leaves and leave your property looking clean and tidy for spring. We have been caring for live oaks for more than 40 years. If you’re concerned about the health of your live oak trees, we can help diagnose the problem and provide the care needed to make them healthy. Contact Earthworks today to schedule your live oak leaf cleaning.

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