Why is My Live Oak Dropping Leaves?

By Tara McCain, Urban Forestry Coordinator

Live oaks are one of the most common tree species you see throughout the Texas landscape. They are known to have large canopies with sprawling branches full of character. They are also known to most people as an evergreen tree, meaning it holds onto its leaves all year round instead of dropping them in the fall like most trees. For this reason, it is commonly mistaken when people see their live oaks drop leaves in the spring time, it is thought that the tree is sick or dying. It is not!

Live oaks go through a process called molting every year when the weather starts warming up after winter. Molting is the process when live oaks drop at least 50% of last year’s leaves and then grow back fresh leaves within the next month or so. Typically, this would start around March or April. However, with Texas warming up a little quicker than usual this year it has been seen that many live oaks are starting their molting process earlier.

It is important to know that not all trees will molt the same way. It’s all down to genetics! Live oaks are all the same species, but they are all their own individual selves with different timing. Some will drop leaves earlier than others, and some may grow their leaves back quicker than others.

Two Live Oaks
Two live oaks. One has started the molting process, while the one next to it has not yet started to molt. Two different trees with different genetics. (Photo credit to Agrilife Extension)

If it is springtime and you see your live oak leaves start to yellow and then brown, molting is about to occur. As stated before, this can be misinterpreted as sickness. The easiest way to make sure that this is not the case is to pull down a branch and take a close look. If you see buds for new leaves present, your tree is doing just fine. Another way to tell is to bend the end of a branch, if possible to reach and test if it is pliable. Dead branches will snap easily.

Live Oak branch with new leaf buds
Live oak branch with new leaf buds. (Photo credit to Agrilife Extension)



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