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How to Beat Back an Oak Wilt Infestation - Fit Turf

Learn all about the dreaded oak wilt disease that's wreaking havoc in Michigan and Colorado. Discover how to stop it from ruining your trees on the Fit Turf blog.

How to Beat Back an Oak Wilt Infection

Oak wilt is spreading rapidly, devastating oak tree populations in Michigan, and in some areas of Colorado. Once detected, infected trees must be removed. Let Fit Turf save your beautiful oaks before it’s too late.

What is Oak Wilt?

Oak wilt is a deadly tree fungus that attacks mainly red oak trees, but white oak trees are susceptible to this disease as well. So far, the disease is threatening oak tree populations in 24 states. To get a perspective of the problem, over 50 Michigan counties have confirmed cases of oak wilt infestation.

How it Spreads

There are three main ways for your oak trees to get infected with oak wilt: insect, firewood and root transmission.

Insect Transmission. Nitidulid beetles a.k.a. sap beetles like to live on fungal mats located underneath oak trees. When the beetles scurry up the bark of healthy oak trees to feed on sap, they inadvertently carry fungal spores with them. These spores tend to get lodged into open tree wounds such as cuts, holes and scrapes. If fruit trees are nearby, the beetles feed on rotting fruit, and then make their way to oaks.

Firewood Transmission. There’s nothing like a nice, warm fire to take the chill off a cold winter’s day. But if that firewood comes from a dead oak tree infected with oak wilt, the wood poses a risk to live trees when moved to an uninfected area. To prevent infection, any oak trees cut into firewood should be stored under a heavy plastic sheet, edges buried into the ground, for six to 12 months. That’s the normal life cycle for this fungus to live on after the tree is dead. Once the wood is thoroughly dried, the fungus won’t grow.

Root Transmission. Oak wilt spreads quickest by root transmission. Below the ground, trees have extensive root systems, which are often interconnected. A single infected tree can easily spread the disease to other trees, and before long, numerous infected trees are dying from a fungus that’s rapidly spreading upwards, hidden behind tree bark.

Wilting and Rapid Destruction

After fungus spores latch onto a tree, the fungus grows rapidly through the tree’s essential water channels. Eventually, the fungus prevents water from flowing to branches, and the tree begins wilting. Suddenly, what looks like a perfectly healthy tree loses all its leaves, even in the middle of summer. It only takes around three to four weeks for infected trees to die. Imagine how empty your landscape looks without those trees.

Save Your Oak Trees

Constant monitoring and maintenance of your oak trees is the best way to prevent this devastating disease from destroying them. Unfortunately, pruning is one of the major causes of oak wilt infestation –- it causes wounding. Yet, pruning is necessary for tree health.

There are safe ways to prune your trees, minimizing potential infection. We can discuss tree pruning with you as part of a vigilant tree care plan. In addition to pruning, we suggest covering tree wounds with pruning paint. This simple step can prevent fungal spores from seeping into wounds once hungry beetles come looking for a sap meal.

Should you worry about oak wilt taking away the oak trees you love? Yes, but Fit Turf is here to help save the day. You can contact us any time to discuss the health and safety of your majestic oaks.

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