The “Oaks” in Fair Oaks Ranch
Mayor Greg Maxton
(As published in the Hill Country Weekly on September 15, 2022)
There are many characteristics that make the City of Fair Oaks Ranch a unique place and a desired location to live in. What initially stands out for many is our semi-rural nature. You will also find wildlife, a centrally located country club, great school districts, trail systems, and a community of residents that are giving and caring that contributes to the small-town atmosphere we experience.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Fair Oaks Ranch is the majestic live oak trees. Live oak trees are found in all areas of our community, but some of these trees are massive and provide a scenic appearance for this hill country town.
In my research for this article, I couldn’t find a standard formula for determining the age of a live oak tree. The reason for this may have been because live oak trees can live up to 300 years, and after a certain period of their life, the formula doesn’t produce consistent results.
A general formula for determining the age of a live oak is to first determine the diameter of the tree. This can be done by measuring the circumference of the tree, tape measuring around the tree at a height of five feet above the ground and dividing the number of inches by 3.14 (pi). This will give you the diameter in inches of the tree. Then multiply the diameter in inches by 4 and this will give you an estimate of how old the tree is.
This is only a guesstimate of the age of the tree but gives you an idea. When looking around our city, we have some oak trees that have been here for 100-150 years. I’m sure that some of our live oaks have been around for over 200 years. As I reflect on this, I thought about the history that our area has been through over that period and what these big oaks have ‘seen’ during their lifetime.
Protecting our oak trees is a concern for everyone. Live oak trees are susceptible to Oak Wilt and Oak Decline, and we experience both of these diseases within our city. Although there are notable differences between the two conditions, there are similarities that may take a licensed arborist to determine which condition is affecting a specific tree.
Oak Decline is a disease in which stressors on the tree simultaneously lead to the decline of the tree’s health. These could include drought, late defoliation, root fungus or some wood boring insects. Unlike Oak Wilt, live oak trees going through Oak Decline may retain their leaves.
Oak Wilt is a vascular wilt disease caused by a fungus that invades the water-conducting tissues of the roots, trunk and limbs of a live oak tree. Oak Wilt spreads to other oak trees in two ways, long distance with the aid of certain beetle or locally through common or grafted roots between trees. We do have Oak Wilt areas within our city that is killing trees. To eliminate or stop the spread of Oak Wilt, we need to take precautions to protect the live oak trees within our city.
The City of Fair Oaks Ranch does have an ordinance that prescribes some measures to prevent the spread of Oak Wilt.
First, maintenance of oak trees in the city limits will only be conducted between July 1 and January 31 each year. During the spring, the Oak Wilt fungus forms spore-producing structures that are spread from tree to tree by small beetles. By limiting tree maintenance to this specified time, it cuts down on the possibility of spreading the spores.
Second, anytime an oak tree is pruned, the exposed cut surface of the tree must be painted with a latex, oil-based, spay-on, brush-on, or wound dressing. This includes the root systems of the oak trees that are exposed during digging or trenching. This is to prevent contact of the spores being transferred from tree to tree.
Last, during the process of conducting tree maintenance, any equipment used is required to be sterilized prior to conducting any trimming, cutting, pruning or removal of trees. Additionally, sterilization will also be conducted before proceeding to additional trees. Sterilization is completed by wiping down equipment with a 10% bleach or 80% alcohol solution. This to prevent the spread of the fungus through the equipment to an uninfected tree.
During this time of year, we have many residents who are contracting with tree service companies to trim their live oak trees. The city maintains a list of qualified tree service contractors who are registered with the city, because these companies know and utilize the correct procedures to prevent the spread of Oak Wilt. If utilizing a tree trimming contract service, residents must use a company that is registered with the city. I recommend asking the contractor to show their registration or contacting City Hall to verify prior to allowing a company to conduct maintenance on your oak trees. Property owners may perform tree maintenance on their own trees but must follow the preventive measures.
If you do have an Oak Wilt infected tree, prior to conducting any treatment, residents must provide notification to the City’s Environmental Manager. An arborist is required to be licensed by the Texas Department of Agriculture, have a Texas Oak Wilt Qualified Number, and provide a copy of the treatment proposal with dates of service to the city prior to conducting any treatment. The City of Fair Oaks Ranch maintains a list of qualified arborists for Oak Wilt treatment that is available to all residents.
Members of the Red Oak group of trees are highly susceptible to Oak Wilt and are prohibited from being newly planted in the city limits.
The city maintains an up-to-date Oak Wilt map, showing the areas where the disease has been identified throughout the city. These maps can be found on the city’s website at https://www.fairoaksranchtx.org/163/Oak-Wilt plus any additional information related to Oak Wilt in our area.
The live oak trees in our city significantly contribute to the natural beauty we have become accustomed to as part of Fair Oaks Ranch. It is not by chance that Ralph Fair named his ranch the Fair “Oaks” Ranch, which then became the name of our city. Many of these trees were here prior to Ralph Fair developing his ranch, and some were here even 100 years prior to that. These trees have seen a lot of history in our area.
By doing the right things today, we can ensure that the live oak trees continue to highlight our city and are around for the next 100 years.