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Agriculture Today

Spreading oak wilt via firewood

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January 18, 2012 | 4,237 views | Post a comment

Q.My neighbor chastised me for carrying firewood back from my hunting lease. He is afraid of oak wilt. Is there a protocol for making sure oak wilt is not spread by firewood?

A. Red oaks are a special issue. Once one is killed by oak wilt, it needs to be cut down and removed in urban areas to prevent development of the spore mats.

Firewood is an issue, because if it is wood from a current season oak-wilt-killed red oak, the fungal mats can form next spring to provide a source of spores for sap beetles to carry from wound to wound on uninfected red and live oaks. Here is how to prevent the problem with firewood:

•Avoid red oak firewood from unknown sources in the Hill Country, unless the wood is dried out from aging over a whole summer. Such wood should have loose bark and be checked and cracked from drying.

•If you cannot identify red oak from other woods, apply the “avoid green wood from any unknown source” rule.

•Make an effort to burn all firewood from unknown sources before March arrives. The fungal mat will only develop in mild weather.

•Dry out the wood yourself by sealing it in clear plastic in February. The heat from the greenhouse effect will dry it out more quickly and the plastic will prevent ingress or egress of the sap beetles.

If you suspect oak wilt or just want to learn more in order to protect your trees, visit the Texas Forest Service Oak Wilt website Regional Forester Mark Duff at is our contact for diagnosis and treatment advice.

Q. What are the best onion varieties to plant?

A. I like 1015, candy, Bermuda, red hamburger, and granex. Most work well.

Q. The deer ate my strawberry plants. Should I replant or give up on them this year?

A. You could try replanting, but I would be more inclined to try and maximize growth on the browsed plants. If the roots are intact, they should come back fast. Give them an additional ration of 19-5-9 or 18-6-12 lawn fertilizer.

Q. I notice that my mesquite trees are getting covered by cat’s claw vine. The flowers are beautiful, but should I try to get it off of the tree?

A. I have the same problem. Cat’s claw will take over a neighborhood. Cut the stems going up the trees every few years. The vine has attractive flowers, but it will shade trees to the point of killing them.

Q. What is killing all the cedars in the Hill Country? Is it a disease like oak wilt? Surely it can’t be the drought? Cedars, I thought, are invincible.

A. It is the drought. Even cedars (ashe juniper) die if they are competing with each other on thin, poor soils in record dry weather.

Q. We received some wildflower seeds as a holiday gift. Is it too late to plant the seed? I see some bluebonnets are already growing in my neighborhood.

A. I would go ahead and plant the seed. Many of the varieties in a wildflower mix will germinate and bloom if planted now in full sun on bare soil.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, e-mail him at

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