Summer Woes, 2023 Edition: Goodbye, red oak; hello, full sun

The red oak in the front yard developed some sort of spreading branch rot that, unfortunately, necessitated its removal.
This is the red oak tree that lost more than half its canopy in February 2021's Winter Storm Uri, a/k/a Snowpocalypse 2021. Lori recommended we take it out that summer, and replant another tree that fall. She hated its over-pruned lollipop look; she said if it were her yard, it would piss her off every time she looked at it. And the longer we wait to do it, she said, the longer we'll have to wait for a new tree to get going.

Instead, we moaned and groaned over it for two years.

It leafed out normally in spring 2022, and overall looked pretty healthy, despite its unfortunate shape. We had three arborists out to assess it, who all basically said it was our decision whether to try to save it or cut it down and replace it. Since doing nothing is usually the easiest and cheapest thing to do, we decided to give it another year. We had the dead wood pruned off to keep branches from landing on our neighbors' cars, but left the suckers on as all of the arborists had recommended. 
It leafed out normally again this spring, but while musing over creating a seating area under the tree a couple of months ago, I looked up and noticed the large whitish patches.  I wondered if it might be hypoxylon canker, although the arborist I called to reassess the tree didn't think so. Whatever sort of rot it was, it was attacking the bark on several major branches, approaching the branch collars on the trunk, and forming small fuzzy black mats under the dead whitish patches. 
In short, nothing about this tree was getting better. It was just a matter of time before the tree succumbed to its environmental stressors, so *right about now* might be a good time to Get On With It, "it" being executing Lori's original suggestion *from two years ago, ahem* and MOVE ON. (Rip the bandage off, already!)
The diameter of the tree was just under the cutoff for needing a city permit to take it out, so we were able to move pretty quickly. The tree was cut down two weeks ago, and the stump was ground last Friday.
Measuring the trunk's diameter at chest height

Beat the cutoff of 19 inches

Under the brutal sun, the only things that are truly thriving are the Leucophyllum frutescens and Yucca pallida, though I hope some of the other native plants will bounce back from the roots, or reseed, once temps cool down and we get some rain. I dug up all the irises (mostly white cemetery irises, with a few from Lucinda) and will either move them to a more hospitable spot, or give them away. They can tolerate drought, but they really don't like this sustained heat; all their tips have browned and they look sad. I divided them two years ago, but many didn't bloom this past spring.

Before the stump grinding

Carex perdentata is supposed to do well in sun or shade, but it clearly prefers shade, especially when it's 105 degrees Fahrenheit outside with no measurable rain in forever.

Struggling sedge lawn, bearded iris, fall aster

Big noisy sigh...  


Now all that's left is a pile of mulch. (We got some good firewood, too, sob.) With the red oak gone, it's looking a lot like West Texas out front, minus the gravelly soil.
The variegated flax lilies I planted in front of the house (to the right in the photo above) are performing admirably, BTW. Unfortunately, all but two of the Ligularia from the second planting are suffering from some sort of leaf spot/crown rot issue, similar to what attacked my original Ligularia planting under the red oak in fall of 2020 (no survivors). Also, Jack hates the oakleaf hydrangeas I planted (seriously, actually hates - as in "I think they are the ugliest plants ever and I don't know why anyone would want to plant them" hates!); but more on all that to follow in a post that I started writing in spring and never got around to publishing.

Words and photos © 2005-2023 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Bye tree! Marc also hates hydrangeas! With the same passion as Jack!

  2. So sorry to hear about the changes this brutal summer has brought. I read somewhere that trees can take as many as 30 years to die. But I am surprised about the iris. I had them in full sun and they even grow here in the desert. Jenny

    1. It is surprising, Jenny! And I just divided them a couple of years ago. Even the irises in shade are suffering.

  3. How can someone hate an oakleaf hydrangea! Amazing! Sorry about your tree---but I think we'll be having more trees down in the next six months to a year thanks to the drought, too.


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