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Common Tree Diseases That Affect Texas Landscapes

If you're a property owner, protect your structures and landscaping by understanding the signs of serious tree ailments. Here's more information about three diseases and general tree care to help you save your favorite plants.

Bacterial Leaf Scorch

The bacterium Xylella fastidiosa is responsible for the tree disease known as bacterial leaf scorch (BLS). Trees grow with vital tissues called xylem that move food and water throughout the plants. Xylella fastidiosa attacks the xylem.
Most oak species in Texas can be infected by BLS, including the following oak species:

  • Pin
  • Red
  • Shingle
  • Bur
  • White
Additional susceptible tree species include:
  • Elm
  • Cedar elm
  • Dogwood
  • Boxelder
  • Sycamore
  • Sweetgum
  • Sugar maple
  • Red maple
  • Mulberry
If you notice leafhoppers or spittlebugs on trees, they're feeding on the xylem in the trees and potentially spreading BLS.

The first sign of BLS damage is a noticeable browning of summer leaves. Oak wilt affects the entire leaf, but BLS often starts browning only the edges of leaves. The browning starts with older leaves and moves up the branches. Leaf-browning may be accompanied by a yellow strip separating the dead leaf sections from the green parts.

Unlike oak wilt - which can kill a tree in months - BLS may take years to fully kill a tree. If nothing is done, the tree will continue to produce normal leaves each year, but more leaves will turn brown and fall out. The loss of leaves over three to eight years leads to declining chlorophyll production. Without enough chlorophyll to meet its needs, the tree eventually dies.

Fungal Infection With Hypoxylon Canker

This fungal disease is spread by air-borne spores that colonize in the bark of trees. During drought conditions, the fungus attacks a thirsty tree, attacks the sapwood, and kills the tree. Most oak trees can be affected. Other species that may suffer from hypoxylon canker include common Texas trees like:
  • Hickory
  • Sycamore
  • Maple
  • Beech
  • Elm
  • Pecan
The tops of trees often show the first signs of the disease including thinning and die-back. Chunks of bark fall off the trees when trees are dead or dying, leaving exposed spores in colors including green, brownish-red, or pale brown.

Hypoxylon canker destroys sapwood rapidly, so an infected tree may be dead in months. The trees are very dangerous because of the decay, so take care to remove the tree with special equipment.

Fire Blight

Named for the way this disease blackens leaves of trees, fire blight is caused by Erwinia amylovora, a bacterium that grows on fruit trees and members of the rose family. Bacteria hibernate on the bark and twigs of trees, then activate and ooze more bacteria in spring. Rain and insects spread the disease.

Affected trees include:
  • Apple
  • Crabapple
  • Pear
  • Loquat
  • Photinia
  • Hawthorn
  • Pyracantha
Affected trees show streaks of oozing on the trunks. Young shoots, blossoms, fruits, and stems turn brown and black. Dead shoots may wilt and bend to resemble a shepherd's hook. Fire blight kills some weak or young trees, but older trees may survive after becoming infected.

Proper Disease Prevention and Treatment for Trees

Healthy trees are better able to resist plant diseases. Disease takes advantage of trees when they don't receive proper care. Make sure your trees are routinely fed, watered, and pruned of dead or infected wood. 

Fire blight is an exception to the rule. Overfed and watered pear trees are actually more susceptible to fire blight. Hold back on fertilizing pears, quince, and other plants in the rose family to reduce the chances of fire blight.

Plant diseases can be confusing and mimic symptoms of each other. A certified arborist is the best expert to examine your trees for disease identification. Once they spot the disease in your trees, they will likely be able to contain it.

Sometimes, sick or dying trees must be removed entirely. Your tree service will know the best choices to make for each individual situation, and they have the specialized equipment to trim, prune, treat, and remove problem trees.

Contact Holcomb Tree Service today to schedule an inspection of declining trees on your property. We also offer preventative care to decrease your tree's likelihood of infection with tree diseases.
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