Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the U.S. and has been blamed for epidemic proportions of tree kills in Central Texas. Because the disease primarily spread by moving firewood from one region to another, the forest service asks residents to be cautious when collecting and purchasing firewood this time of year.
Oak wilt fungus spreads in two ways: above ground and below ground. A sap-feeding beetle carries the fungal spores to new trees above ground, while fungus travels from tree to tree underground through interconnected roots.
By following these steps, Texas residents can help stop the spread of oak wilt fungus:
- Select well-seasoned firewood. Well-seasoned wood is cut before the summer and is typically dry with loose bark and cracked ends. Avoid oak wood that appears unseasoned, which may have tight bark and cut ends which show no cracks or signs of aging. The extreme heat and dry conditions of a full Texas summer effectively destroy the fungus in cut firewood.
- Safely store unknown sources of firewood under plastic. If oak wood comes from an unknown source and it is not well seasoned, cover the woodpile with a clear piece of plastic. Also, bury the edges of the plastic to prevent the entry or exit of insects that might have been attracted to diseased wood and fungal mats.
- Destroy diseased red oaks. Have an arborist or forester inspect your red oak trees for oak wilt if your Texas red, blackjack or shumard oaks have died rapidly in groups of two or more. If the trees are diagnosed as having oak wilt, they should be destroyed by burning, burying or chipping. The heat of a fire destroys the fungus and the smoke emitted poses no threat to healthy trees. When planning to do any outdoor burning, be sure to check with local officials to see if an outdoor burning ban is in place for your county. Take care not to burn on windy days with low humidity.
Oak firewood is an important commodity to Texans, whether it’s used for firing up the barbecue pit or warming up the home on a cold winter’s day. By selecting well-seasoned, disease-free firewood and by following the disease prevention guidelines, Texans are taking the correct steps to help prevent a new oak wilt disease outbreak in their region.
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