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.


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.