There are over 90 species in the genus Quercus, commonly known as Oak trees, in North America, and hundreds of species throughout the world. Oak trees are majestic, providing a lovely shade canopy that sequesters carbon, helping to purify the air. Additionally, they provide food, support, and protection for a vibrant community of birds, mammals, and insects, and hundreds of caterpillar species in the United States. This strong and stately tree can grow over 100 ft tall and is very long lived. Protect and care for your tree when newly planted to get it off to a great start, and your Oak tree will reward you with many benefits for years to come.
Find a location that gets full sun, at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Always consider the eventual height and width of the variety of Oak. Many grow quite large, so select a spot where the tree will have plenty of space to grow. Oaks prefer soil that is well draining, fertile, and neutral to slightly acidic. Using a spade, dig a hole in the ground about twice as wide as the root system, and loosen the existing soil if it is hard or compact. Make sure the top of the rootball is just above the soil line, and avoid planting the crown below the soil level.
During the first few years after planting your new Oak, water it consistently to give your tree a great start. Water once or twice a week deeply, saturating the entire area surrounding the root zone. Avoid watering the trunk, and make sure the soil is draining well. Check the moisture levels of newly planted Oaks more often during the hottest months of summer. Scale back on watering if there was a recent rain. Water early in the morning to minimize evaporation from heat and wind.
Healthy, mature Oak trees do not require fertilization, but over the years, soil can become less fertile. At planting, you can topdress the soil with garden compost or well-rotted manure to stimulate growth and acorn production. Different Oak varieties prefer a different soil pH, so do a little research or consult an expert on your specific Oak variety. The best option is to select a variety that is native to your region and well adapted to the soil in your landscape.
Pruning new Oak branches should be limited to removing dead, crossing, damaged, or diseased branches during the first few years of growth. When trimming a mature Oak, research the proper methods to prune mature trees. Make any cuts outside of the branch collar to prevent disease, moisture, and fungus from penetrating the trunk. All cuts should be clean cuts from sterilized tools; never allow pruning cuts to tear or rip the bark as this can be an entry point for disease.
Caring For Oak in Pots
Because of their mature size, often reaching 70-100 ft tall, most Oak trees are not suitable for containers. There are some smaller varieties, such as the Dwarf Chinkapin Oak, that can be grown temporarily in a large container. However, Oaks dislike being transplanted, so it's best to plant them in the landscape where they will have plenty of room to grow and thrive.
Winter Care for Oak
Particularly when caring for young or newly planted Oak trees, it's important to get a jump on protecting your tree in early autumn from deer browsing and antler rubbing. There are several plastic and metal protective cages available, or you can make your own with a few 6-ft garden stakes and some heavy-duty plastic or metal fencing. Before the first frost, give your Oak tree a thorough soaking, reaching the perimeter around the entire root system. Apply a few inches of organic mulch around the root zone to protect the roots from winter weather, and be sure to pull the mulch away from the trunk.