How to Care for a Live Oak

oak-treeCaring for a live oak is not that difficult. It’s not even that different from caring for your other trees. However, there are some things we want you to know about how to care for a live oak. We’ll explore them in this blog post.

Plant a live oak in the right environment.

The first and most important thing is that you should plant a live oak in the right environment. Live oaks do best in warm, moist weather. They also like areas with mild winters. That makes them perfect for Central Texas. Live oaks cannot survive prolonged freezing temperatures and icy weather. The live oak does best in soil types that range from well-draining loam to poor-draining clay so long as you keep your pH balance in the neutral to slightly acidic range. (For more information on pH balance and soil types, keep your eyes out for future blogs on this page.)

Water a live oak regularly when it’s young.

A young live oak needs regular watering. You’ll know it’s watered correctly when the soil is moist. If it’s wet, then you’ve watered too much. You don’t want to over or under-water your live oak. Neither is good for the health of the young tree. You also don’t want to water your live oak in winter. Allow winter precipitation to water it for you.  When the tree is mature, it’s best to water not more than once a month. The best way to water a live oak is to use a drip system for a slow, gradual soaking.

Prune a live oak as often as it needs it.

Live oaks are beautiful, sprawling trees. They have lots of branches. Dead limbs do happen. Don’t worry. Just prune them as soon as you can. They need to be gotten rid of for safety reasons. Keeping the dead wood out allows for good wound closure, which is very important for the continuing health of your live oak. You should inspect the canopy regularly. If it looks like limbs are too heavy at the ends, thin those out to prevent limb failure. As the tree gets older, the growth will slow, and you will need to prune less often. Taking good care of the tree will allow it to sustain itself year after year and live oaks can last many years.

Protect the root zone of a live oak.

You want to limit competition for resources surrounding your live oak. The best environment for a live oak is one where there is a comfortable root zone that contains mulch. You may have to remove sod and plants. You don’t want anything around the tree that can inhibit its growth. That might even mean keeping other trees or turf away from the tree. We know that might not be your best landscaping option, but it’s best for the tree’s continued health.  A 15 foot radius is good. Otherwise, the roots could smother and the tree will die a slow death.

We really hope that you know how to care for a live oak. We, at Austin Tree, are very familiar with the species. If you need your tree pruned or to make sure it’s root system is in good condition, we suggest you give us a call at 512-341-8888.

How to Successfully Plant a Live Oak

oak-fruit-886925_960_720Planting a live oak can be challenging, but you can do it. We will give you tips on how to plant a live oak in this article. This way you can care for a live oak with minimal difficulty.

Collect & Sow

If you want to grow a live oak from a seed, you must do so with care. Live oak acorns can be collected after the month of October from the trees. Acorns found on the ground have a much lower germination percentage than ones found on the trees themselves. Remove the acorn caps and float them in a bucket of water. Discard the floating acorns, caps and debris. Also, get rid of acorns with wholes, shell cracks or fungal growth. You want to keep the best acorns to use to seed your live oak.

The larger the acorn is, the more successful it will be in germination and early growth.  Sow the acorns in good, well-drained but moist mineral soil. It’s best not to store acorns as this can cause fungal growth and other longevity problems. Live oak acorns have no cold requirement before germination. You should plant them in the fall. Sow acorns eight inches apart and with 1/3 inch of mineral soil and 1 inch of low density, organic mulch on top. Germination should begin within days and finish up within four weeks.

The new root will quickly expand into the soil and grow fat on the nutritive materials provided by the acorns themselves. The small tree is prone to under-watering and over-watering damage so you should be careful to get this part just right. Partial shade on site can help. It allows for germination and prevents the emerging radicals from drying out. You will want to transplant the growing seedling oaks with large lateral root systems to field growing areas. Grow live oaks 2-8 years.

Planting

Successful planting of a live oak is similar to that of other trees. The site you use should have full sun. Live oak produces few shade leaves even when it’s young and needs sunlight to grow. You should not allow interference from other plants or turf, vines and shrubs. Weeding is important to keep other growth away from the live oak. It’s best to maintain a plant-free zone around the live oak base. The live oak needs adequate watering; however, it’s important to note that poor soil drainage can kill many young and newly planted live oaks.

If you are not self-growing your live oak, you can pick one up from a nursery. Young live oaks need pruning many times as they grow. They also need to be hardened off before planting. Hardening means that you hold the root pruned dug trees in the ground for several months. You can dig them up in late summer, early fall or winter so long as you have not pruned the tree multiple times. Non-root pruned trees have a poor survival rate compared with root pruned trees. Do not use fall transplanting with live oaks. Spring transplanting assures good root colonization.

Field-grown live oaks usually outlast, outperform and outgrow container grown trees. That’s because they’ve been pruned and hardened. If you use a container grown tree, you should shave away the outer inch of the container soil with a shovel at planting time. Smaller container grown trees perform better than their larger counterparts due to root constraint problems being magnified as trees get transferred to progressively larger containers. These root constraints can last a long time after planting.

Go Shallow & Wide

Excavate a large planting saucer – make it wide, not deep. Make vertical slices all the way around the saucer into the surrounding soil to provide root growth channels. Cultivate the site ahead of time. You should not plant the trees any deeper than the middle of the lateral root tops. Generally, the primary lateral roots must be visible 1-2 inches above the soil surface at the tree base. Don’t use any intermixed, layered, or surface applied soil amendments in live oak planting saucers. Minimize fertilization, if any is used at all, for the first year.

Start irrigation immediately with the amount determined by site drainage. You need to apply water over the root ball with a little extra over the saucer area and the native soil. Water should always pass down through the planting site. However, it should not accumulate around the roots. Irrigate live oaks a minimum of two times a week for the first growing season, and once a week for the second growing season and during extended drought periods. Control competing weeds for at least the first three years. Maintain a clear soil surface area closely around the base of a newly planted tree.

Planting Summary

Proper planting when root growth can start quickly is essential for a successful live oak to grow. Spring planting is very effective. Field grown, root pruned and hardened young trees make great candidates for planting. Give them plenty of water as well as plenty of soil drainage in a large, shallow and wide-spread planting area is ideal. Do not amend the planting saucer backfill soil. Do not fertilize in the first growing season. Use a thin layer of a light-weight, non-compressible organic mulch over the planting site except for the six inches immediately around the stem base. Key components to good management of live oak throughout its life will be water, space, training, great soil, and wound prevention.

If you want to know how to care for a live oak that’s already mature, we’ll deal with that next week. Stay tuned and, as always, call us at 512-341-8888 with any questions.  We’re happy to help.

How Do You Identify a Live Oak

liveoakidentifyYou know your live oak basics now, so how do you identify a live oak? It’s about more than noticing evergreen leaves and Spanish moss drapes. Live oaks, especially when young, can be confused easily for other types of trees. In this article, we’ll explore some areas you can look out for to help you identify a live oak.

Leaves

Live oak leaves grow along twigs usually. They are simply constructed. They are unlobed, stiff and leathery. They are elliptical or elongated-elliptical in shape with a wedge base. Live oaks are considered evergreen trees because leaves remain green and stay on the tree until after the new leaves sprout in the spring. Usually, the leaves are 1.5 to 4.5 inches long and ½ to 2 inches wide. The edge of the leaf is smooth or slightly wavy. The leaf edge is slightly curved under but not tightly rolled. The tip of the leaf is round and not bristled. Shape and size of live oak leaves are highly variable so they can be easily confused for another type of tree.  Live oak leaves are dark green on top and gray green underneath. The underside is covered with plant hairs. The main vein on the underside is yellowish in color. Side leaf veins cause slight depressions on the leaf’s upper surface.

Flowers

Live oak flowers tend to be wind-pollinated. There are both genders on the same tree, but each particular flower is a male or a female. Flowers are apparent from February to March for about two weeks. The male flowers are a light yellow and dangle about 2-3 inches down. Female flowers tend to be found on one 1-inch long, pale green spikes. They have a bright red coloration. Different forms of live oaks flower at different times. The flowers become sexually mature rather quickly. Stump and root sprouts are sexually mature and flower the year following expansion. Seedlings become sexually mature and flower about five years after germination. Full flower production does not occur for 7-12 years. Trees older than 100 years old usually do not generate as many female flowers as middle-aged trees with full crowns, although some flowering does continue to the end of life.

Acorns

This type of tree produces oblong, barrel-shaped acorns about ¾ to 1 inch long with a short point at the end. The acorns are held at the end of a long stem. They grow in clusters of up to five per clump with 2-3 per clump being a typical arrangement. The cap of the acorn looks like a bowl and covers 1/3 to ½ of the acorn. The cap also has thin, reddish-brown, hairy scales. Acorns mature by October to a dark blackish-brown. They fall by January. Live oak acorns don’t live long before decaying. It’s small but sweet tasting with a bitter after-taste. Relatively small animals love to eat these acorns because they’re easy to grab and catch.

Bark & Twigs

The bark of the live oak has a range of colors that are modified by exposure and surface growths. It can be dark-brown, greyish-brown or dark reddish-brown. Generally, it’s described as a medium brown. The bark has shallow furrows with flat, scaly ridges between them. It’s rough and divided into rough squares. It’s intermediate in thickness once the tree matures; however, when the tree is young, it’s thin. Twigs are stiff, slender and hairy. The pith is solid and continuous. Winter buds are blunt on the ends. They are about 1/16 inch long. Buds have chestnut brown scales with tiny white hairs at the margins. Young twigs can provide food for a number of animals.

Roots

The roots of the live oak tree system are wide-spreading and shallow. They require good drainage and plenty of oxygen. Unlike other trees, there’s no real relationship between root spread and crown spread in a live oak.  Live oaks generate roots running just below the soil surface coming from the stem base or from large branches permanently in steady contact with the soil surface. These roots can create new sprouts that grow around live oaks and are a good source for reproduction cuttings.  Live oak root systems are large and interconnected within and between trees.

Wood

A live oak has extremely dense and hard wood. It’s very strong and durable. Wood density values provide for a hot burning and high energy content fuelwood or charcoal. In the past, strength and durability of live oak wood prevented most hand powered sawing, and so planks were seldom generated. Historically hubs of wheels and machine cogs were hewed and carved from live oak. The most celebrated use of live oak wood was using the natural shape of branches and stems in building ribs and knees of wooden ship frames.

Now you know how to identify a live oak. Do you still have questions? If so, feel free to contact us at 512-341-8888.

 

Live Oak Basics

Southern Live Oaks are majestic trees that are emblems of the South. Known as Quercus virginiana, a live oak is often seen magnificently draped in Spanish moss. The lumber from the tree was used in the hull of the Famous USS Constitution. Yes, Old Ironsides is made of wood. Live oaks are currently appreciated for their wind firmness, adaptability to various soil types and tolerance to soil compaction and salt spray. (Yes, live oaks do great by the ocean.)

The name live oak comes from the fact that the evergreen oaks remain green and ‘live’ during the winter while other oaks lie dormant and leafless. They replace their leaves over a short period in the spring. It only lasts a few weeks. When given enough room to grow, their sweeping limbs will plunge to the ground before shooting upward. This creates an impressive array of branches.

Crowns of the largest southern live oaks can reach diameters of 150 feet. On average, however, the crown spread is 80 feet and the height is 50 feet. Branches usually stem from a single trunk, which grows 5 or 6 feet in diameter. The live oak produces sweet, tapered acorns. They are eaten by squirrels, mallards, sapsuckers, wild turkey, black bears and deer.

Generally fast growing trees, their growth rate slows with age. They can reach the maximum trunk diameter within 70 years. The oldest live oaks in the country are between several hundred to a thousand years old.

The live oak tree grows well in salty soils and in shade. This makes them great competitors against less tolerant trees. They cannot survive freezing temperatures so that’s why they’re a great Texas tree. The flowers of the live oak are small, brown and pollinated by the wind in the spring. The lovely acorns fall in the fall and feed lots of animals, as previously mentioned. Although live oaks are strong and so is their wood, it’s not used much for timber anymore. The biggest threats to live oaks come from pests and diseases such as wilt disease which is most prevalent in Texas.

Here are some fun live oak facts:

  • The live oak tree is the state tree of Virginia.
  • Live oaks start producing acorns when they’re about 20 years old.
  • Live oak trees can grow in forests, in front of buildings such as schools, parking lots, gardens, backyards and more.
  • Live oak trees also grow by oceans. They do great resisting the salt spray.

If you have a live oak tree, we will talk more about their care in a future article. You can always call us at 512-341-8888 for more information on live oaks. We’re happy to talk to you about it.