If You're A New Homeowner In California, You Need To Know About Sudden Death Oak Syndrome

If you've just moved to California and you've bought a home, you need to learn as much as you can about a plague that has been affecting oak trees in the area since 1997: sudden oak death. This disease is primarily limited to the West Coast, with heavy concentrations of outbreak in California and Oregon. It can cause seemingly healthy oaks to suddenly die. Understanding what causes this disease, its warning signs, and treatments can help keep you from falling victim to this problem.

Cause Of Sudden Oak Death

Sudden oak death is caused by a fungus called Phytophthora ramorum. This fungus is highly voracious and has spread to trees and plants all over California. Some estimates claim that over one million oak trees have been killed by this serious infestation. And while it does infect other plants, it rarely causes serious damage or death in them.

Unfortunately, that means it's possible for infected plants near your oak to spread the fungus while remaining relatively healthy. In fact, as these plants grow in your yard, they may spread sudden oak death to other oak trees in your yard without warning.

Warning Signs Of Sudden Oak Death

The symptoms of sudden oak death are primarily visual: you should be able to spot cankers on the bark of your tree if you it is infected. They will quickly spread throughout your oak and will grow in size. Then they spread down to affect the core of your tree, which causes its death.

The fungus that causes sudden oak death can spread to a variety of plants, so it is important to understand how it differs in look from plant to plant. Generally in oaks, the cankers will be dark or cause a discoloration, such as red or orange bark.

Precautions When Visiting Infected Trees

When you are visiting or trimming trees you think are infected, it's important to avoid accidentally spreading the fungus to other trees. This will only speed up the process and potentially cost you even more trees. Make sure to follow these guidelines whenever inspecting or trimming oak trees that are infected:

  • Wear protective boots before entering the site and clean them of all soil, needles, and plant debris
  • Disinfect boots after you are done by soaking them in a bucket filled with an anti-fungal cleaner
  • Remove all needles and debris from clothing
  • Check all areas of your cloth to ensure you have removed any tree debris and dirt
  • Always change wet clothing whenever moving between sites
  • Scrape dirt and debris of all tools (including trimming tools) and wipe down with an anti-fungal disinfectant after leaving

Treating The Problem

When it comes to eliminating the spores that cause sudden oak death from your trees, your options are limited. Some pesticides, such as those that utilize mono-and di-potassium salts, are often applied on oaks through California once a year to prevent the fungus from taking root. However, these applications are purely preventative, meaning they can't treat an already infected tree. They're still worth pursuing if you just moved to the area and don't spot any signs of infestation on your tree.

In some instances, it may be possible to remove infected branches before the fungus spreads to the rest of the tree. However, by the time you spot cankers on the bark, there's a good chance it has already spread through the tree. Removal of the oak may be your only option: this helps prevent spread to other trees in your yard and keep it from falling in a dangerous manner.

For more information, contact Williams Lawn Care & Landscaping, Inc. or a similar company.