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It may be cool out, but it’s time to finish pruning oak trees to prevent the spread of oak wilt.
The best way to prevent the spread of oak wilt is to not prune any oak tree between the end of March and the start of October. However, the warm weather conditions indicate that spring might be a bit early this year. For that reason, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises to finish oak pruning by the end of the second week in March.
Oak wilt is caused by a fungus and has been present in Iowa for many years. The trees in Iowa most commonly impacted by this disease are red, black and pin oaks, but it can infect white and bur oaks. Black, pin, and red oaks usually die within the same summer they are infected. White oak and bur oak can often take years before they succumb.
A healthy tree can be infected by the fungus in 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. The second 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. Those products slow the tree’s ability to seal over the wound.
More information on oak wilt prevention and control can be found here https://www.fs.usda.gov/naspf/publications/how-identify-prevent-and-control-oak-wilt