Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2010 11:00 am
Location: Columbus, OH

Dying Red Oak - Please Help!

Hi everyone, I'm new here and could use some help with a 5-10 year old 20' red oak tree in my yard. It was healthy until last summer, when I noticed the top branches were bare.

Since then I've watered it fairly often, but Spring has rolled around and now fully the top half of the tree has no leaves. The rest of the tree bloomed normally and looks healthy, with no signs of disease or insects.

Any idea why this tree is dying? Is it worth saving at this point? If I were to try and save it, should I prune the non-leafed branches off (this would basically cut the tree in half)?

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!


Green Thumb
Posts: 439
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2006 11:17 am
Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b

Without seeing your tree the best I can do is make a semi-educated guess.

The issues with your tree could easily be abiotic: construction/soil compaction, herbicides, salt, etc. Do you use a lawn service like ChemLawn?

If you can eliminate those possibilities it sort of sounds like oak wilt to me.
Look to see if the dropped leaves resemble the photo in the link. The caveat about this possibility is that in my experience oak wilt usually will kill red oak trees in a single season (white oaks often linger for several years and are less susceptible to begin with). If it is oak wilt your tree is as good as dead. You can probably send in a section of branch where the disease had just started (not one of the already dead ones near the top) to your state plant pathology lab for a confirmed diagnosis. If it is oak wilt the tree should be removed and burned and I would not recommend planting another oak in that spot. I would also not consider an ash as a replacement species because of the emerald ash borer.
Last edited by MaineDesigner on Tue Apr 27, 2010 7:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

Newly Registered
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2010 11:00 am
Location: Columbus, OH

Thanks for the quick reply. The symptoms last year do point to oak wilt, but I don't remember if the leaves were damaged as described in your linked article or not. They did, however, turn colors and drop much faster than the rest of the tree in early autumn (those same leaves have not returned). I will check the leaves tonight for any sign of oak wilt, but since it's still early spring and the leaves are new I doubt I'll see much.

To answer your other questions, the soil is a hard clay which may be compacted somewhat (I aerated the lawn last fall), and I use Scottslawn products in the lawn as recommended by Scotts. Targeted spray herbicides are occasionally used on weeds near the base of the tree.

Thanks again for the help. If you (or anyone else) has anything to add, please do! I would love to save this tree!


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Full Member
Posts: 35
Joined: Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:36 pm
Location: North Carolina

I think MaineDesigner is right on this one, sounds like it could be oak wilt. Given that no other physical harm was done to the tree (i.e. driving heavy equipment or cars on the root system, hitting it with the weedwacker, etc.). Your county Horticulture extension agent should be able to help identify the symptoms correctly over the phone or come out and take a sample to get it tested.
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