Of Oaks and Crape Myrtles
I’ve driven (actually ridden) many miles looking at live oaks and red oaks and their erratic leafing patterns since the February deep freeze.
I’ve spent many hours looking at, walking around, and flexing crape myrtle twigs and trunks in the past several weeks.
And now I’m spending many hours speaking and writing answers to gardeners’ questions about what should be done with these plants that are still not looking up to prime.
Here’s where I am…
With oaks, they are still continuing to leaf out. Yes – I get it that your neighbor’s tree looks perfect, while your tree just 100 feet away is almost bare. But if I hadn’t seen that very same thing 100 times over, and if I hadn’t seen perhaps 85 of those seemingly dead trees suddenly pop back to life and start putting out leaves… If I hadn’t seen all of those “miracles,” then I’d be giving the go-ahead to cut the dead-looking trees down. But I can’t do that just yet.
I’m not the least bit convinced that these lethargic oaks are dead. I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again: there is no reason to rush. Oaks aren’t going to fall overnight. Leave them in place another few weeks. What will it hurt? Professional tree people feel that they’re going to leaf out and grow as the weather turns warmer. If we’re wrong, hey – you were going to cut them down anyway.
Oh, and don’t let any door-knocking tree guy start hacking around on your shade trees. Contact a certified arborist. Someone who knows what they’re doing. Someone who’s familiar, for example, with oak wilt and why you don’t prune while that fungus is active (spring and early summer).
Note: A blue-ribbon panel of certified arborists, nursery leaders, foresters, Extension horticulturists and garden communicators has formed to delve into the issues with oaks. Watch for more information soon.
But, what about those crape myrtles…
Crape myrtles are a different story. We’re beginning to formulate a game plan for them.
I met with six outstanding nursery professionals at the World Collection Park (of crape myrtles) in McKinney this past Monday evening. We looked at probably 300 plants and spent the best part of two hours discussing how each plant should be handled.
Based on the dozens of photos folks have posted on my Facebook page in the past month from all over the state I feel like what we have in that park is pretty representative of what most of Texas is seeing.
1. Many of the plants were not impacted by the cold. They look completely normal. Only regular care is called for.
2. Some of the plants appear to be completely dead from the ground up. Their trunks are dry. Their branches are dry and show no signs of moist, green tissues when scratched. Their small branches and twigs snap when they’re bent. And, very importantly, most of those plants have strong sprout growth coming up from their bases.
Those plants should be cut back to within a couple of inches of the soil line, and those sprouts should be trained as the new trunks. I will have complete details on how to do that right here next week, but you can begin by getting the old, dead trunks cut away as soon as possible.
3. Many of the plants have some limited top growth and generous numbers of sprouts coming up. This is the group that is giving us headaches because we can’t tell yet whether the tops are vigorous enough to recover and grow, or whether we will need the sprouts. We are leaving both the tops and sprouts in place for two more weeks at which point we will check that group once again.
My suggestion to you at this point is that you follow this same line of thinking. You can easily enough tell the crape myrtles that are doing perfectly.
You can easily enough tell those that have died to the ground. Go ahead and prune their dead trunks back to 1-2 inches, leaving as many of the sprouts as you can untouched. I’ll have complete details of how to retrain them right here next week. It’s easier and quicker than you might think.
And if you’re unsure, just wait. Those plants will help you make the decision if you give them just a little more time.