Trees
Frequently Asked Questions

  1. My tree has a big hole in the trunk what should I do?
  2. Should I put a pruning cut sealant on recently pruned limbs?
  3. I just moved into my new house and the large oak in my front yard seems to be dying. What is the problem?
  4. I have lived in my present home for 15 years. I have two large oak trees in my front yard and one all of a sudden one is starting to die. There has not been any construction in my yard for years which might have injured the tree. What is the problem?
  5. I have a large oak tree in my back yard which is at least 50 years old and doesn't appear to be doing too well. Should I have the tree cut down?
  6. I have two East Palatka hollies in front of my house. They both seem to be losing leaves and dying back. Any idea what the problem is?

1. My tree has a big hole in the trunk what should I do?

There is a popular misconception that holes in tree trunks and/or large limbs should be filled with concrete or some other material to plug the hole. At the present time, University of Florida researchers feel that the hole should just be left alone. Putting concrete or plumbers foam in the hole may make the rotting potential worse, than just left alone. Trying to clean the out the hole by digging out rotten wood may do more damage than good. Keep in mind that this hole is an indication that the tree has been previously damaged in some way which could eventually lead to the death of the tree.

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2. Should I put a pruning cut sealant on recently pruned limbs?

The current thinking is that that these sealants could make the potential for rot worse by trapping moisture under the sealant. The best procedure is to make the cut at the collar where the branch meets the trunk and leave the cut area bare. The collar area has natural chemicals to protect the trunk from invasion by insects and disease. If insects seem to be invading the cut area, then an insecticide can be applied.

The problem often starts in young trees when the collar is pruned off a large limb at the trunk. This leaves the trunk totally exposed to fungus and insect infestation. The end result is that 20 years later there is a 10 inch hole in the side of the trunk seriously affecting the health and longevity of the tree. Check the hort web site on tree pruning for details.

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3. I just moved into my new house and the large oak in my front yard seems to be dying. What is the problem?

Construction is one of the main causes of decline and death of trees in our landscape. Any type of construction activity, such as trenching for utilities, digging for a swimming pool, piling a load of fill dirt under the drip line of the tree, increasing or lowering the grade by just a few inches, or putting in a septic system all could have a major impact on the trees in your landscape. Typically the root system of deciduous trees like oaks extend out at least three times the diameter of the drip-line of the tree. Any major damage to that root system may have a major impact on the health of the tree. Damaged trees may take several years to finally die from construction activity.

One of the best ways to protect the trees from construction damage is to allow no construction activity under the drip-line of the tree. As a matter of fact the best procedure to follow is to build a substantial fence around the drip line of the tree-allow no traffic, no digging or storing of fill dirt. This is called the tree protection zone and will go a long way to insure the longevity of the tree.

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4. I have lived in my present home for 15 years. I have two large oak trees in my front yard and one all of a sudden one is starting to die. There has not been any construction in my yard for years which might have injured the tree. What is the problem?

Many oak trees in Florida have been under stress from lack of water or too much water going from one extreme to another. There is a great demand for water in Florida and water tables are dropping which puts much environmental stress on our trees which may be the reason why your tree is dying.

Another possible explanation is that your tree is nearly the end of its life. Many laurel oaks, which have a longevity of 60-70 years were planted in Polk County in the 1920s so they have lived as long as expected.

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5. I have a large oak tree in my back yard which is at least 50 years old and doesn't appear to be doing too well. Should I have the tree cut down?

This is always a difficult question to answer. I have seen trees that I thought were going to die-live and trees that I thought were going to live-die. It is just really hard to tell if the tree can recover on its own. If the tree poses no threat to your house, to children playing, does not have large limbs breaking off, does not have any large rotten areas on the trunk and generally has a good canopy of leaves, then you may want to give it another year of two before cutting it down, particularly if it is a live oak which has the potential to live several hundred years.

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6. I have two East Palatka hollies in front of my house. They both seem to be losing leaves and dying back. Any idea what the problem is?

A common disease of some hollies particularly East Palatka and Savannah holly is called Sphearopsis Gall. The symptoms range from swellings on young twigs to galls on older wood. Multiple shoots arise from the galled area causing a witch's broom effect. Horizontal branches can "tip up" to grow nearly vertical. Dieback of infected branches eventually occurs. 

The disease can be maintained to some extent by pruning back the diseased area 6-8 inches into good wood. Fungicides are not effective except after pruning as a preventative spray. Sterilize pruners between cuts and/or plants as the disease is easily transmitted on pruning shears. Severely infected plants should be removed and destroyed.

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