Water Oak Tree Care: Growing Water Oak Trees In The Landscape

Water Oak Tree Care: Growing Water Oak Trees In The Landscape

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Water oaks are native to North America and found across the American South. These medium sized trees are ornamental shade trees and have an ease of care that makes them perfect in the landscape. Try growing water oak trees as street plants or primary shade trees, but be aware that these plants are short lived and can be assumed to survive 30 to 50 years. Read the article below for more water oak information.

Water Oak Information

Quercus nigra is a tolerant plant that can grow in partial shade or sun to full sun. These elegant trees are deciduous to semi-evergreen and an important part of ecosystems from New Jersey to Florida and west to Texas. Water oaks grow at a fantastic rate of up to 24 inches per year. Caring for a water oak is easy, but it is a weak wooded tree prone to many diseases and insect pests.

Water oaks produce copious quantities of acorns, which are a favorite food of squirrels, raccoons, turkeys, pigs, ducks, quail, and deer. Deer also browse young stems and twigs in winter. The trees tend to develop hollow stems, which are habitat for a host of insects and animals. In the wild, it is found in lowlands, flood plains, and near rivers, and streams. It has the capacity to thrive in compact or loose soil, provided there is adequate moisture.

Water oaks may be short lived but their rapid growth makes them an excellent shade tree for decades. However, special water oak tree care when young is essential to produce a strong scaffold. Both pruning and staking may be necessary to help the tree develop a sturdy skeleton.

Growing Water Oak Trees

Water oaks are so adaptable they are often used as residential, reclamation or even drought zone trees. They may be planted in areas with pollution and poor air quality and the tree still thrives. The trees are reliably hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 6 to 9.

Water oaks get 50 to 80 feet (15-24 m.) tall with a nice cone shaped crown. Bark ages to brownish black and thickly scaled. Male flowers are insignificant but female catkins appear in spring and become wide ½ inch (1.25 cm.) long acorns. The leaves are oblong, spatulate, and deeply tri-lobed or entire. Foliage may grow 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm.) long.

These trees are extremely adaptable and, once established, caring for a water oak is reduced to handling any pest or disease issues and providing supplemental water during extremely dry periods.

Water Oak Tree Care

Water oaks must be trained when young to prevent the crotch from splitting due to poor collar formation and the weight of the side limbs. Young trees should be trained to a central trunk for best plant health. The rapid growth of the plant contributes to its weak wood, which is often hollow by its 40th year. Provide young trees with plenty of water to ensure good cell development and thick wood.

Oaks are host to a number of pest and disease issues. Caterpillars, scale, galls, and borers are the insects of most concern.

Oak wilt is the most serious disease but many fungal issues are often present. These might include powdery mildew, canker, leaf blight, anthracnose, and fungal leaf spot.

A common deficiency in iron causes chlorosis and yellowing of the leaves. Most issues aren’t serious and can be combated by good cultural care.

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Read more about Oak Trees

How to Plant an Oak Tree

It only takes an acorn to grow a majestic oak tree. For an easier start, however, you can purchase an oak tree sapling at the garden center. Two of the most common oak trees are the red oak and the white oak. Care instructions for your oak tree vary depending on the variety. To determine which type of oak you are harvesting acorns from, study the leaves. The white oak has smooth leaves with no bristles on the leaf lobes. The red oak has bristles on its leaf tips and lobes. Make sure you follow the specific care instructions for your type of oak.

Step 1 - Collect Acorns

Gather acorns from the ground beneath an established oak tree in late September to early November. Acorns should be plump without splits or rotting. [Acorns are ready to be planted when the cap loosens and is removed easily.] White oak acorns can be planted immediately, but red oak acorns need to be stored until the following spring.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "You may find white acorns on the ground that have already started to sprout. You can gently harvest these little sprouts and plant them immediately."

White oak acorns mature and germinate in one season while the red oak acorns take 2 seasons to mature. This means that the red oak acorns will need to be stored and planted next spring. With the right storing conditions red oak acorns stay dormant until germinating the following spring.

Step 2 - Store Acorns

If you need to store your acorns before planting, the most important storage tip is to keep the acorns moist. If they are allowed to become dry, the acorns may lose their viability. Place oak acorns in a plastic bag with damp peat moss, saw dust, or peat mix. Close the bag loosely and put it in a refrigerator set to 32 to 40 degrees F. This cooling period is very important for red acorns. Never freeze your acorns. Check acorns throughout the winter to ensure that they are still slightly damp.

Red acorns need at least 42 days of a cooling dormancy period to become viable. This means you want to aim to plant your red oak acorns in late April. Acorns can be planted later in the spring if need be.

TIP: Rachel notes, "You can store white acorns in this fashion if you need to delay planting. However, you need to keep the temperature at 32 to 35 degrees F. White acorns will sprout given temperatures between 36 and 39 degrees."

Step 3 - Plant Acorns

Choose your plumpest and healthiest acorns. Make sure they are free of fungus or mold of any type. Fill 1-gallon planting pots with potting soil. Never use garden soil. It could be infected with pests, fungus, or disease. You can also use a larger pot. Keep in mind that your oak's vertical tap root grows very quickly. The length of a pot is more important than the depth. Place acorns on their sides into the soil. Loosely cover each with soil and water. Keep the soil moist but never soggy. Soil should never be allowed to dry. Pots should have drainage holes and be resistant to freezing.

Step 4 - Transplant Seedlings

Choose a spot that will accommodate a full grown oak. This mature size will vary depending on the type of oak. Do not plant your seedling too close to structures, streets, or sidewalks. Your oak seedling is ready to plant when it's first set of leaves seem firm and strong. This should occur about 3 weeks after germination. Dig a hole that is the depth of the pot and twice as wide.

TIP: Rachel recommends, "Inspect the soil. Make sure that it is free from pest infestations and fungus. You don't want to plant your delicate seedling in a hole full of its enemies!"

You can put a few handfuls of organic leaf compost in the hole to give your seedling an extra jumpstart. Remove the root ball from the pot and place it in the hole with the root crown at soil level. Pack the soil into the hole and soak it with water.

TIP: Rachel advises, "As your young oak matures it will expend a huge amount of energy developing a strong healthy root system. While they are growing, however, the roots are very delicate and susceptible to damage. For this reason, take special care to leave the root ball alone!"

Step 5 - Transplant a Young Oak Tree

If you choose to buy an oak sapling instead of growing one from acorn, the planting instructions are slightly different. First, c hoose a spot that will accommodate a full grown oak. This mature size will vary depending on the type of oak. Again, do not plant your sapling too close to structures, streets, or sidewalks. Prepare a hole a few inches smaller than the depth of the tree’s root ball. Make the width of the hole 3 times larger than the dimension of the root ball. As you would for a seedling, i nspect th e soil for pest infestations and fungus. Place the root ball in the hole with the root crown at soil level. Fill the hole in with soil, creating a firm mound around the base of the tree.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Before transplanting seedlings, many gardeners choose to harden off their trees. Hardening off ensures that your oak will be used to the temperatures outside before planting. It will increase the chance of a healthy transplant. To harden off your seedling wait until it has opened its first set of leaves. Then, begin placing the pot outside for a few hours a day in the early afternoon. Each day, gradually increase the amount of time the tree stays outside, moving it into the house or garage at night. After three weeks to a month of hardening off, your young tree is ready for transplant. Hardening off typically works best for seedlings planted in large pots since the roots will have plenty of room to grow during the process."

Step 6 - Water Your Young Oak Tree

Water the oak tree regularly for the first year to establish the root system. Slow watering helps the tree become hardy. Be careful not to overwater, because too much water can cause root rot. The best way to water is with a soaker ball, soaker hose, or a drip irrigation system. Always place the water device a few inches away from the tree. Turn on the hose to a slow trickle and water your young oak for 10 minutes every other day in hot summer weather. As the weather cools down in the fall, gradually cut back your watering to once every week to every 2 weeks. Cease watering in the winter. After the first growing year, cut back waterings to hot days and times of drought.

Step 7 - Protect Your Oak Tree

Use organic mulch to lock in moisture and to keep the soil from becoming compacted. Spread a layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches deep around the tree, taking care not to come in direct contact with the base of the tree. Good types of mulch to use for the oak tree are Aphelia hay, woodchips or pine needles.

Remember to protect your young oak from weather conditions, animals, and equipment damage. There are many different types of tree guards, each one specializing in different kinds of protection. Choose one based on what problems you experience or foresee with your oak sapling.

TIP: Rachel adds, "To learn more about the different types of tree guards, visit this article! "

Live Oak Tree

Quercus virginiana

The ultimate in trees for shade, the live oak tree has been immortalized as the classic symbol of the South - big, beautiful, and romantically draped in Spanish moss.

No plant has quite the "presence" of this magnificent tree. It can survive for centuries. It provides shelter and food for birds and squirrels. It even adds monetary value to your home.

A single live oak can add up to $30,000 value to a property, according to University of Florida botanist Francis Putz. He also states having one planted near a house can help save it from hurricane damage by acting as a windbreak. These trees are very wind-resistant, even during hurricanes.

These oaks are some of the most commonly planted large shade trees in Florida.

One live oak tree can grow a broad-spreading canopy of arching, horizontal branches that can cover half a football field - including the sidelines and some of the stands.

Beautiful at every stage of its long life, a live oak's silvery gray branches on young trees mature to unbelievably long, thick ones from an immense trunk.

The wood itself is dense and heavy, ideal for everything from firewood to ship building.

During the War of 1812, cannon balls bounced off the sides of the USS Constitution, giving the ship the nickname of "Old Ironsides." The ship was built from live oak wood.

In fact the Navy used to grow its own forests of live oaks.

Sometimes called Southern live oak, it's a wonderful wildlife habitat, though it takes quite a while to begin producing acorns. usually 20 years or more.

Many people complain of live oaks as being very messy trees. They're right, once the tree is mature.

It drops leaves that are small and hard to rake. Spanish moss is decorative on the tree but falls in big furball clumps onto the ground. The tiny yellow flowers in spring can cover everything beneath the tree with a light dusting of yellow. Some acorns sprout - often planted by squirrels burying food for "later" - and are so well-rooted they can be difficult to pull out.

But young trees are much less messy than older ones - and the work involved is really a small price to pay for the shade, character, landscape beauty and value, not to mention the protection from winds that oaks provide.

These trees support more than just wildlife. they also are home to epiphytes (air plants) besides Spanish moss - things like night-blooming cereus (pictured below) and staghorn fern.

Plant specs

A live oak tree is a moderate grower to 60 feet (though not likely in our lifetime) with a very wide-spreading crown.

It needs full sun and room to spread its wings, as well as a well-drained planting location.

Oaks are cold hardy, fine in any Florida planting zone. They're considered semi-deciduous, meaning they push out old growth to make way for new. but we would call it evergreen since it never goes completely or even noticeably bare.

They are considered "deer-resistant" - though there are no guarantees.

Plant care

Add top soil to the hole when you plant.

Trimming is unnecessary for a young live oak tree but watering is. These trees must have regular irrigation to grow strong root systems that will support this large a tree.

Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer and autumn - with a top quality granular fertilizer.

Plant spacing

Plant at least 15 feet from the house, more (and then some) if you can.

Come away from a walk or drive 10 feet or more so roots don't cause problems.

Avoid placing near other big trees that will shade it.

Do not plant too near an uncaged pool due to leaf litter.

Landscape uses for live oak tree

  • single yard specimen
  • along the property line
  • in multiples to create a woodland from a large, plain yard


COMPANION PLANT SUGGESTIONS: Don't plant under a young oak tree and keep turf grass from growing right up to the trunk. Once the tree has matured, you can tuck bromeliads around the base. Nearby plants that love the dappled shade of the oak's big canopy might include peace lily, fern, croton, chenille plant, ginger, dwarf azalea, golden shrimp plant, and elephant ears.

Southern Live Oak

A large, spreading tree growing 60 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 120 feet wide, Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is hardy in USDA zones 7b through 10b, according to Monumental Trees. Shape the tree during its early years, pruning it each year for the first three years after planting and then every five years to age 30. This establishes a strong scaffold and good structure for its expected life of 200 to 300 years.

A number of picturesque old Southern live oaks of monumental size are distributed throughout the South. Among them are the Middleton Oak and the Angel Oak, both in South Carolina. The Angel Oak is thought to be 400 to 500 years old.

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How to Plant & Care for a Bur Oak Tree

Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a large, deciduous tree that is native to most of North America. Bur oak grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8. These trees mature into large, crown-shaped trees, reaching heights from 70 to 90 feet with spreads ranging from 60 to 80 feet. Planting bur oak trees entails careful planning, to ensure room for its massive full-grown size. Caring for bur oaks begins right after planting.

Select an area providing full sun and well-draining soil. Locate the site for planting the bur oak tree well away from other foliage, structures and overhead wires. Pick a planting site that accommodates the tree's mature size.

  • Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a large, deciduous tree that is native to most of North America.
  • Planting bur oak trees entails careful planning, to ensure room for its massive full-grown size.

Cultivate an area from three to five times wider than the size of the bur oak tree's rootball (container) to allow the roots to spread. Create a planting hole in the center that is the same depth of the container.

Remove the bur oak from its container and check the roots. Cut off any damaged or broke and loosen any tangled. Place the tree in the hole at the same height or slightly higher than it was in the container to allow for settling. Add or remove dirt from the hole if needed.

Backfill the hole with the same soil removed. Drench the area with water to get rid of any air around the transplanted bur oak tree and to settle the tree. Add more dirt, if the rootball is exposed.

  • Cultivate an area from three to five times wider than the size of the bur oak tree's rootball (container) to allow the roots to spread.
  • Create a planting hole in the center that is the same depth of the container.

Place a layer 2 to 3 inches thick of mulch extending out over the planting area. Do not put any of the mulch within 6 inches of the bur oak's tree trunk.

Supply 15 gallons of water slowly to the bur oak two times a week for the first month. Water the tree weekly for the next two months, every other week for the next three months and then once a month after that.

Water requirements will vary depending on your location, soil condition and rainfall. Check the soil to a depth of 4 inches, and only water when it is dry.

Prune A Live Oak Tree

Wait until after the first frost of the fall season to prune your oak tree, which reduces the chance of an insect infestation on the cut branches. Set up a ladder to access the branches. Examine the tree for dead branches. Using pruning shears or a tree-pruning saw, cut these branches parallel to the main branch. Prune sparingly based on aesthetic concerns that affect the shape of the tree.

  • Cut off diseased, dead or damaged branches.
  • Prune the branches where they meet healthy wood.

Make clean cuts. Ragged cuts will damage the tree. Keep pruning equipment sharp.

Watch the video: Overgrown Oak Tree Trimming WHandtools. Another Avoidable Mistake