Infectious disease killing oak trees is widespread in Central Texas

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DRIFTWOOD (KXAN) — An infectious disease called oak wilt is a silent killer that knows no boundaries.

KXAN reported Saturday about how oak wilt has killed about 30 trees in a Bastrop County homeowner’s yard.

After that story aired, they received more emails from viewers, saying trees in south Austin are dying as well.

Dirk Johnston, certified arborist and partner at Oak Wilt Specialists of Texas, said oak wilt can be found just about anywhere in Central Texas.

“As people have come in, cleared land, made a lot of wounds on trees, the disease has spread,” he said.

Oak wilt spreads either through roots or through sap-feeding beetles. The disease prevents oak trees from getting water and eventually kills the tree.

Paula Johnston, certified arborist and partner at Oak Wilt Specialists of Texas, said think of it like a heart attack or stroke in people.

“[It] starts clogging up the vascular tissue where the food and the water go up and down,” she explained. “At that point then you start seeing symptom expressions. At that pointm the tree is having a heart attack or stroke just like people would be.”

The arborists say there is a way to prevent the disease from spreading.

If you notice any damage to your trees, address it as quickly as possible.

“Getting a new oak wilt center started not only hurts you, but it hurts your neighbors because then it goes through the roots from tree to tree to tree, and that’s a big problem. It’s hard to stop,” Dirk Johnston said.

“As more people are building homes and things like that, we have more issues with trees getting trimmed, the wounds not getting sprayed and getting new disease centers started,” Paula Johnston said.

“It’s important because it’s also hard to establish new trees,” Dirk Johnston said. “It takes a long time for them to grow to this size or larger. It could be 50 years, 100 years.”

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April 22 2021 09:00 am