Live Oak Root Sprouts
One of the most frequent questions we get is “How can I
control all of the small oak sprouts that are coming up under
my live oak tree?” This can be a very frustrating situation
for those who are attempting to make flower beds, plant ground
cover or other ornamental plants, or just trying to enjoy their
lawn by frolicking barefooted through the grass.
First an explanation about how these sprouts come about is required.
One of the basic, and most successful, methods of mother nature’s
propagation of the live oak are these root sprouts. In their native
environment single live oak trees are seldom found. Rather they
are congregated in groups of trees called copses. Perhaps a squirrel
planted the original acorn from which this copse emerged and the
ensuing tree sent up many oak sprouts. Of that many some succumbed
to the browsing of domestic and wild animals such as cattle and
deer which find them very tasty, and some didn’t make it
for other reasons. Those that survived became the copse, all connected
to a common root system.
It is this common root system that makes the fungal disease,
oak wilt, so devastating as when one of the trees is infected
all of the trees in that copse become infected as the fungus progresses
through the root system.
Since those root sprouts are growing from the roots of the tree(s)
they are under or near, any attempt to kill them with herbicides
is going to be detrimental to the health of the mother tree. You
can dig them out by grubbing the entire area under the tree, but
this is just a very temporary solution as they are going to come
back with a vengeance.
So really the answer is that we just have to learn to live with
them. How you do this is a personal preference. Some plant Asian
Jasmine in the same area because of its similar leaf appearance
and periodically cut off the oak sprouts as they grow taller than
the ground cover. Some thin out the canopy of the trees, allowing
more sunlight to filter down to the ground enabling St. Augustine
or Zoysia grass to grow. Then the offending oak sprouts growing
in the grass are frequently mowed off. I have also seen them used
as a ground cover just by keeping them mowed.
Your next question is going to be “Why are they under some
trees and not others?” I do not have an answer to this.
Research continues in the attempt to find an answer to this question
so maybe someday we will know.
Lastly, I remember a tongue-in-cheek answer given by a noted
local horticulturist whose recommended solution was “to
get a goat”. This seems to work with deer also if they have
access to these sprouts.