Water and Red Oaks have been hit particularly hard over the past 3-4 years from Hypoxylon atropunctatum, or Hypoxylon Canker of oak. This disease is most common on overstocked, water-stressed stands. Hillsides in Birmingham AL, are scattered with dead oak trees due to Hypoxylon canker. We have had three summers (not including this summer) where most of the state has been in severe to extreme drought. The fungus is incapable of infecting healthy trees and the disease shows up when trees become moisture stressed. It starts out as a small canker or lesion and then expands, leading to the eventual death of the tree.
For more information on Hypoxylon canker of oak, please see the following links:
There are several other diseases than can also impact oaks this time of the year such as Bacterial Leaf Scorch, and Tubakia Leaf Spot.
To learn more about these and other possible tree diseases you can visit Alabama Forest Disease and Insect Pests website https://fp.auburn.edu/sfws/enebak/4h/start.html or the University of Georgia Key to Diseases of Oaks in the Landscape http://www.caes.uga.edu/publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk_id=7387.
If you still are not sure, contact the Alabama Cooperative Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab at Auburn University http://www.aces.edu/dept/plantdiagnosticlab/ where for a small fee you can get plant, soil, or insect samples tested to help you determine potential causes of oak and other tree diseases.
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