The mighty oak tree, king of the shade trees, is a priceless component of our environment, but it must be cared for properly if you want to maintain one on your property. More than 80 species exist in North America alone and throughout American history the oak has been celebrated in stories, songs, and proverbs for its strength and majesty. The deciduous trees have jagged leaves and thick, rutted bark and produce acorns as fruit.
Young oak trees are pretty tolerant of changes in their environment and easily adapt to changing conditions. Once established, however, the mature oak tree gets a bit picky about how much disturbance they’ll put up with. Significant changes in a mature oak’s environment can weaken or kill even the healthiest of trees.
The most important part of caring for oak trees is protecting the tree’s root system. The roots of an oak stretch out to the length of half the area from the trunk to the outer limits of the tree branches. Oaks have adapted to survive long, dry summers, and it shows in their extensive root system. A newly sprouted acorn works quickly to establish a root system below the surface before it even pushes its head above ground. The first few years of an oak’s life are spent working on a deep, supporting root system. By the time an oak has established its complex root system it has used up all of its youthful energy, making it less tolerant to change and decreasing its ability to recover from stress. To give your oak proper protection make sure you pay attention to the drainage around its roots and definitely avoid digging or paving anywhere near this area.
Once established, your oak should thrive pretty easily on its own. Oak trees rarely require any supplemental irrigation. Excessive moisture can actually cause root and crown rot, so make sure to plant your oak tree in an area that is well drained. Do not add fill (soil or other materials) on top of the natural soil level, as this will make the soil less permeable, restricting the movement of water and increasing the risk of root and crown rot. The best option is to add a four inch layer of chipped bark mulch below the canopy of the tree. Do not add more than four inches and leave space around the trunk. Try to avoid landscaping under your oak’s canopy, especially any plants that require a lot of water. If you must add plants under your oak choose ones which tolerate shade and dry conditions.
Fertilization of oaks is rarely necessary, especially if you do decide to mulch. Pruning is also not necessary for oaks unless it is needed to correct structural problems or to remove dead branches. Excessive pruning can be very harmful to oaks as it exposes interior branches to sun damage and can stimulate the tree to produce new growth which is prone to mildew. If pruning is necessary, do it during the dormant winter period.
Oak trees are easy to care for and add a bit of splendor and dignity to any landscape. Follow these instructions to keep your oaks healthy and happy!