The noble oak tree is the most common, and perhaps the most spectacular species of tree in the United States.
Oak trees have been a symbol of strength for hundreds of years. An Oak tree can live for 200 or more years with strong trunks and branches. They have a broad geographical range, growing throughout temperate regions in both hemispheres. But there is much to consider before planting an oak on your property.
Because the oak can live so long, up to 300 or 400 years, they can reach immense heights. One of the oldest known oaks in the United States is 105 feet tall with a crown spreading 158 feet. An oak tree needs a lot of space not only for it’s crown, but for it’s roots. A mature oak can draw as much as 50 gallons of water per day from your soil. So plan accordingly if you choose to plant an oak, or select one of the smaller varieties if you have a small property.
Oak trees may not begin producing acorns until they are 20 years old or more. A 70 year old tree will produce thousands of acorns, the number varying based on water and nutrients available. But generally the number of acorns produced continues to grow, sometimes alternating between heavy and light production every other year. The acorns can become a nuisance if planted near a water feature or swimming pool, are not pleasant on bare feet in the grass, and can pile up in your gutters. But planted in the right spot, the beauty of an oak tree will be enjoyed for your lifetime.
Care of an oak tree is simple. Pruning should not be required other than to remove dead or damaged limbs. Pruning should be done when the tree is either dormant in early winter in cold climates, or in the dry season when growth is minimal in warmer climates. A 6 foot circumference around the trunk should be left undisturbed to allow for air and water absorption. Avoid digging and planting, or covering with asphalt or concrete. If the growing season is dry, supplemental watering may be necessary. Soak the ground in the outer root zones. But do not water as the tree goes into it’s dormant period, in fall in cold regions and in the dry season in warmer climates. Feeding your oak tree should not be necessary other than when it is young if you would like to help it to establish more quickly, as well as monthly waterings until it is well established. Oaks will find and take the nutrients it needs from a very large area, so surrounding plantings may require additional food and water. It’s primary need is nitrogen, so if your oak is stealing all the nitrogen from nearby plants and lawn, spread a granular fertilizer in the drip line each spring.
Although planting in the root zone is not suggested, nearby plantings should be drought tolerant with minimal nitrogen needs if you hope for them to thrive. And your oak tree will cast long and dense shade, so take some time to determine how the shadow moves through the day and through the season before selecting nearby plants.
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