My answer to most tree problems started with a proposed solution red tip photinias dying of root disease. The technique was successful and evolved into the Sick Tree Treatment. We have learned more and the recommendations have continued improve. Here are the reasons for and details of the current improved program for trees that are infected with cotton root rot, oak wilt, or any other fungal disease.

Oak wilt is a devastating fungal disease of native and introduced red oaks and live oaks. Texas A & M and the Texas Forest Service recommend a program of trenching to separate the roots of sick trees from those of healthy trees, cutting down sick and nearby healthy trees and injecting a toxic chemical fungicide called Alamo directly into the trunks or root flares of the trees. I don’t recommend this program because it does nothing to address the cause of the disease. Trees succumb to insect pests and diseases because they are in stress and sick. Mother Nature then sends in the clean up crews. The bugs and pathogens are just doing their job – trying to take out the unfit plants. Most sickness is environmental – too much water, not enough water, too much fertilizer, wrong kind of fertilizer, illadapted plant varieties and/or over planting single species and creating monocultures, such as American elms in the Northwest and red oaks/live oaks in certain parts of Texas.

The plan is simple. Keep trees in a healthy condition so their immune systems can resist infection and disease. It has been noticed by many farmers and ranchers that the disease doesn’t bother some trees - especially those that are mulched and those where the natural habitat under trees has been maintained. There’s only anecdotal evidence so far but we have seen excellent results from the following organic program that is called The Sick Tree Treatment:

  1. Aerate the root zone heavily. Start between the drip line and the trunk and go far out beyond the drip line. A 7-12" depth of the aeration holes is ideal but any depth is beneficial. An alternative is to spray the root zone with a living organism product such as Bio-Innoculant or AgriGro.
  2. Apply Texas greensand at about 40-80 lbs./1,000 sq. ft., lava sand at about 40-80 lbs./1,000 sq. ft., cornmeal at about 10-20 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. and sugar or dry molasses at about 5 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. Cornmeal is a natural disease fighter and sugar is a carbon source to feed the microbes in the soil.
  3. Apply a 1" layer of compost followed by a 3-5" layer of shredded native tree trimmings. Native cedar is the best source for mulch. In turf use a 1" layer of horticultural cedar flakes.
  4. Spray foliage and soil monthly or more often if possible with Garrett Juice (see formula below.) For large-scale farms and ranches, a one-time spraying is beneficial if the budget doesn’t allow ongoing sprays. Adding garlic tea to the spray is also beneficial while the tree is in trouble.
  5. Stop using high nitrogen fertilizers and toxic chemical pesticides. Pesticides kill the beneficial nematodes and insects. Fake fertilizers are destructive to the important mycorrhizal fungi on the roots.


A premix of all these materials is now available from the organic suppliers.

If you’ve already had trees die, can you use the wood for firewood and mulch. Since the fungal mats form on red oaks only, not on live oaks, the live oak wood can be used for firewood without any worry of spreading the oak wilt disease. Red oak wood needs to be stacked in a sunny location and covered with clear plastic to form a greenhouse effect to kill the beetles and fungal mats. When oaks are shredded into mulch, the aeration kills the pathogens and eliminates the possibility of disease spread. That goes for all species.

About the nitidulid beetle - is this beetle the only vector of the oak wilt disease? I doubt it. How about mechanical damage to tree trunks, wind, squirrels, hail, sapsuckers and other insects? Fire ants seem to prefer weaker trees over others and could also be part of the disease spreading problem.

The Sick Tree Treatment has not yet been proven by any university and probably won’t be even though the evidence continues to stack up. Improving the health of the soil and thus the population of beneficial fungi on the root system seems to be paramount. Spraying the foliage during the rebuilding of the soil and root system provides trace minerals into the plant that can’t yet come in through the roots. This program is not just for oak wilt. It works for most environmental tree problems and all tree types. The point here is that if it works for oak wilt, it will work even more effectively for less deadly tree conditions. If your tree problem is a result of poor variety selection, I can only help you in the future. Choose more wisely next time.

Garrett Juice: Garden-Ville Garrett Juice is available commercially or you can make your own. Per gallon of water: 1 cup manure compost tea or liquid humate, 1 ounce molasses, 1 ounce apple cider vinegar, 1 ounce liquid seaweed. For added disease control add ¼ cup garlic tea.

Garrett Juice Concentrate: Mix the following: 1 gallon of compost tea or liquid humate, 1 pint liquid seaweed, 1 pint apple cider vinegar, and 1 pint molasses. Use 1½ cups per gallon of water for the spray.

Tree Trunk Goop: 1/3 of each of the following mix in water: soft rock phosphate, natural diatomaceous earth, manure compost. Slop it on the trunk. Note: fireplace ashes can be substituted for the soft rock phosphate. Replace it if rain or irrigation washes it off. For any physical damage to trunks, spray with hydrogen peroxide and then treat wounds with Tree Trunk Goop.

John Howard Garrett

The Natural Way with The Dirt Doctor on News/Talk 820 WBAP – Sat. 11-noon, Sun. 8-noon

Dallas Morning News column Fridays – House & Garden Section

P.O. Box 140650, Dallas, Texas 75214, Voice Mail: 817-695-0817

Web sites E-mail

Dirt Doctor’s Ground Crew – Malcolm Bayless: Phone: 972-248-5057, Fax: 972-248-9537,

E-mail:, P.O. Box 796641, Dallas, Texas 75379

Until I see you again, don’t eat any white bread, white rice or processed food, and don’t forget to feed and water the birds!


To buy products for the chemically sensitive see
For more information on medical treatment see
For more articles on the relationship of health and disease to environmental factors, see the list of available articles and other information available here.