Colder temperatures mean you can prune oak trees with minimal to no risk of spreading oak wilt.
That window of safety will continue until about March 1, Tivon Feeley, forest health program leader with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said.
Oak wilt, caused by a fungus, has been present in Iowa and Illinois for many years. The trees most commonly impacted are species such as red, black, and pin oak, but it can also infect white and bur oak.
If black, pin, or red oak are infected by the fungus that causes this disease they usually die within the same summer they are infected. White oak and bur oak can often take a number of years before they succumb to this disease.
A healthy tree can be infected by the fungus that causes this disease two different ways. The first is through open wounds during the growing season. The fungus is carried from a diseased tree to a healthy tree with an open wound by a small beetle. (That is why people are asked to refrain from pruning — or making wounds — during warmer months when the beetle is active.)
The second form of infection is through root grafts between oak trees of the same species. For example, if a red oak is infected and there is another red oak within 50 to 100 feet there is a good chance that the roots of these trees are grafted and the fungus can move from the diseased tree to the healthy tree.
Symptoms to look for on infected trees usually include leaves turning a bronzed brown along the outer margins of the leaves. These leaves can often still have some green on them as they fall from the tree.
The defoliation tends to start at the top of the tree. The best way to prevent the spread of oak wilt is to prevent any wounding to oak trees during the growing season.
If a tree is wounded from storm damage or pruning is required during the growing season, treat the wounds immediately with a wound dressing such as acrylic paint. Do not purchase pruning paints/sealants as those products slow the tree’s ability to seal over the wound.
More information on oak wilt prevention and control can be found here: http://na.fs.fed.us/pubs/howtos/ht_oakwilt/identify_prevent_and_control_oak_wilt_print.pdf
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