With agricultural drought loss in Texas last year hovering near the $8 billion mark, little attention has been directed to other drought-related tragedies. But a 2012 study by the Texas A&M Forest Service forestry program is raising the alarm on just how deadly and far-reaching drought damages have been beyond the devastating impact to Texas agriculture.
“We all know about the drought impact on crop losses and livestock herd, possibly the worst in history. But what most haven’t heard is the terrible impact the drought has had in terms of tree loss across the state,” reports Nueces County Extension agent Jeffrey Stapper. “According to the A&M study, Texas has lost nearly 306 million trees as a direct result of the drought.”
Stapper says the A&M survey of hundreds of forested plots scattered across the state shows 301 million trees were killed as a result of the devastating 2011 drought, but the figure does not include trees in cities and towns. Another 5.6 million trees in urban areas along streets and in yards and parks also died as a result of the drought.
With a state population of just over 25 million, that means for every resident of Texas. More than a dozen trees died in a single year. Recovery from such a grand loss, Stapper says, will require a concerted effort from both government and property owners.
But how do you replant such a huge number of trees?
“Texas A&M Forest Service maintains a comprehensive Website that will help select tree varieties based upon region and soils and the size of the tree you want to plant. But for much of Texas, the hearty live oak tree is a good choice for repopulating the state with healthy trees,” Stapper says. “They are excellent landscape trees that contribute to property values in all parts of the state.”
He says when selecting Live Oak acorns, consider taking them from the most desirable trees native to your local area. Characteristics worth noting when choosing a mature tree as a seed source are desirability of leaf color and shape, drought tolerance, absence of galls, trunk form, vigor and umbrella-shaped canopies.
Growers should understand, however, that oaks are wind pollinated. The undetermined pollen source in the formation of the acorn may dilute the desirable characteristics sought, according to Austin Stockton and David Morgan, formerly with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
“Acorns are [best] collected in the autumn months, from October to December. It is not uncommon for acorns to germinate while on the trees. Ripe acorns can be picked before they fall, and often it is wise to do so in order to escape weevils, which attack those that fall to the ground,” Stapper suggests.
He says acorns that are brown in color are physiologically mature; those that are yellowish are not ripe.
“When checking for viable seed, discard acorns that float in water, along with those that show pin-sized weevil exit holes. Live oak seeds frequently contain weevil larvae that prevent germination,” he added.
A well-drained growing medium is preferred for germination in flats. Flats should be at least 6 inches deep. Covering the bottom of the flat with copper wire mesh promotes an extensive, well-developed root system. Seedling tap roots are killed when they touch the mesh, and lateral branching is encouraged. This type of root system is deal for continued growth in 1- and 3-gallon containers. Seedlings may be moved to containers during the spring following fall germination.
In addition to the Live Oak, Stapper says ornamental trees and disease resistant varieties are also easy to plant and grow. He refers property owners to the A&M Forest Service Web site for a complete list of recommended varieties for a particular growing area.