February marks the beginning of the highest risk season for oak wilt infections as well as the beginning of the time period the city of Lakeway prohibits pruning oak trees, according to city officials.

In a nutshell

Oak wilt infections—one of the most destructive tree diseases—are especially widespread in Central Texas, killing millions of oak trees every year. The infectious disease is caused by a fungus that invades and disables the water-conducting system in oak trees, according to Texas Oak Wilt—a collaborative oak wilt information project by Texas A&M Forest Service and the Forest Health Protection branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

The city of Lakeway prohibits pruning oak trees from Feb. 1-June 30 as part of the Diseased Tree Ordinance, which focuses on oak wilt prevention, according to the city.

The ordinance is strictly enforced with possible fines of $500 to $1,000 per day if violated, according to the city.

The specifics

City of Lakeway Forester Richard Leon said oak wilt affects Red Oaks and Live Oaks the most in Lakeway.

Leon said if a Red Oak is infected, it is fatal, while Live Oaks infected with oak wilt can be treated with a fungicide.

“The sooner the treatment is applied, the better,” Leon said. “There’s no guarantee that the tree will survive, but Live Oaks can be treated for oak wilt once infected."

Red Oaks, on the other hand, should be removed immediately upon detection of oak wilt, Leon said, to prevent further spread of the disease. He said oak wilt is spread by beetles that land on a fungal mat produced by infected trees, cover themselves in the fungus and land on other oak trees.

What else?

To help detect oak wilt infection, Leon said homeowners can view photos of symptomatic oak trees on the Texas Oak Wilt website or hire an oak wilt-certified arborist to check for symptoms on their property.

Leon also said there is a preventative treatment for oak wilt that will last a few years that property owners can request to treat their trees.

The best thing homeowners can do to help stop the spread of oak wilt is to stop trimming their trees, unless necessary due to a safety concern, as it creates open wounds making them susceptible to infection, Leon said.

“They're creating so many wounds, and then their neighbors are creating so many wounds,” Leon said. “So you're really creating an environment where the fungus can spread pretty quickly from house to house.”

If trimming trees is necessary due to a safety concern, Leon said the wounds should be covered immediately with a coat of any kind of paint to create a physical barrier between the vascular system of the tree and the beetles that might land on the wound. Painting the wounds quickly is vital, as waiting even 24 hours will not prevent the spread of oak wilt, he said.

The cost

Leon said a certified oak wilt arborist may cost homeowners a small amount to check for symptoms on the property, but it is much less expensive than if oak wilt infects the trees.

“It’s better to spend $50 on a consultation with someone who knows oak wilt to come out and look at it than it is to spend $5,000 or more to remove trees if they all die ... plus, the loss of property values that you get when you have to remove all of your nice oak trees.” Leon said.