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How to Grow: Oaks
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Grown mostly for its stature and attractive reddish-purple fall foliage
Mature Height x Spread
40 to 90 feet x 40 to 60 feet
fall color, native, drought tolerant
Like the maple tree, the oak defines our forest and landscape. These huge, stately trees are long-lived and much desired as shade trees and for wildlife. Like many children, I remember hanging a swing from the lower, large limbs of a white oak tree when I was young. Most oak trees grow slowly into large trees. The classic leaves turn an attractive reddish-purple to bronze in fall depending on the selection, and the leaves often hang on the tree into winter. The acorns were a major food source for Native Americans and still are prized by squirrels and other wildlife. The wood is often used for cabinets and flooring.
When, Where and How to Plant
Oak trees are hardy throughout New England. Purchase trees from a local nursery. Plant trees in spring in a full sun location in moist, well-drained, loamy, slightly acidic soil. Oaks have taproots so are best planted when young so not to disturb the root system. Space trees 30 to 50 feet apart.
Keep young trees well watered. Mulch around the base of trees planted in lawns with wood chips or bark mulch. Create a mulch ring around the drip line to protect the tree trunk from damage due to lawn mowers or string trimmers. Fertilize young trees in spring with a tree plant food. Keep the soil slightly acidic to avoid diseases and nutrient deficiencies. Older trees don’t need fertilization.
Regional Advice and Care
You’ll need some room to grow oaks in your yard. Avoid planting oaks close to buildings or power lines so they won’t have to be severely pruned in the future. They need little pruning other than removing the occasional dead, diseased or broken branch. Some oaks such as red oak (Q. rubrum) are periodically attacked by caterpillars such as the gypsy moth. Older trees can withstand the damage. Protect younger trees with sprays of Bacillus thuriengensis to kill the caterpillars.
Companion Planting and Design
Oaks need room to grow. Plant them in a large lawn area or create a grove in a meadow. The red oak (Northern red oak) and pin oak (Q. palustris) are faster growing than white (Q. alba) and English oaks (Q. robar).
‘Crownright’ is an upward growing pin oak that doesn’t have branches that droop to the ground as with other oaks. ‘Green Pillar’ is a narrow growing, columnar-shaped pin oak that only grows 15 feet wide and has red foliage in fall. ‘Skyrocket’ is a columnar shaped, English oak that can be used as a street tree. ‘Westminster Globe’ is a rounded English oak. ‘Pendula’ is a weeping English oak that only grows 30 feet tall.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.