Although oaks are relatively easy to care for, a few tips will help keep them happy and healthy — Oaks live so long and have such appeal in the landscape that planting one becomes a good investment -- one that will outlive the house itself if a few special needs are met.
"Oaks have special needs," says arborist Joe Benassini. "They're adapted to long, wet winters and dry summers. When we landscape and build around them, we need to be very careful how we do that."
One of the most common mistakes that homeowners make is planting a lawn too near an oak and then watering that lawn regularly. Eastern oaks are moderately tolerant of these waterings, but oaks in the West are not. There, a good rule of thumb is don't soak the oak.
Some other basic rules:
-- Maintain the natural grade around the tree, a critical element in preserving the tree's root system.
-- Know the tree's water, light and nutrient requirements. Oaks need full sun, plenty of room to grow and can adapt to most soils. Mulching the young tree is a good idea in almost all cases. A natural mulch feeds the soil and allows the soil to feed the tree.
-- Think compatibility when adding nearby landscape plants. A tree like the eastern dogwood would probably not be a good companion because its water requirements are incompatible with those of the oak.
-- Check on your tree's health twice a year -- in summer to check the foliage, and in winter for structure. Examine the tree at the root crown where the trunk meets the soil; look for mushrooms, unusual growths, bulges, cracks and flaking bark.
-- Don't over-prune. "Pruning should only be done to manage the growth and safety of the tree," says Benassini. "So pruning should be kept to a minimum."
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