Southerners love live oaks

Richard Bogren, Owings, Allen D.  |  2/27/2015 3:29:35 AM

Live oaks grace the entrance to the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. (Photo by Allen Owings)

Proper pruning of young and mature oak trees aids long term success. (Photo by Allen Owings)

News Release Distributed 02/27/15

By Allen Owings

LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – Have you noticed that Southerners have a love affair with the live oak (Quercus virginiana)? And rightly so! Noted for its strength and longevity, this stately tree was one of the major tree species that survived the wind and flooding of Hurricane Katrina. It is also one of the few trees that have a society of which all members (except for one human custodian) are live oak trees.

The Live Oak Society is a registry of over 7,500 notable live oak trees found throughout the South. To become a member, a live oak must have a girth (waistline) of 8 feet or greater. Girths over 16 feet are classified as centenarian. You can find out more about registering live oaks at this site maintained by the Louisiana Garden Club Federation – www.lgcfinc.org/live-oak-society.html.

The LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station has seven registered live oaks with seven more in-waiting.

The most notable of the centenarian trees are located at the front entrance to the station. Named for Boleslaus "Bill" Szymoniak, first superintendent of the station, and his wife, Edna, these centenarian trees are well-known to the thousands of visitors who pass under their lofty boughs as they enter the station.

The other oaks at the station are named for landscape architect Neil Odenwald, horticulture professors Allen Owings and Regina Bracy, urban forester Paul Orr and recently deceased Louisiana nurseryman Richard Odom. A ceremony for the official tree naming will be held soon.

Winter is a great time to provide care and maintenance to your live oak trees. From selecting trees at the garden center to planting, pruning and fertilizing, this is the time of year for live oak maintenance.

Live oaks are grown at many wholesale nurseries in Louisiana and are one of the most sold trees at garden centers.

If you intend to plant a live oak, select a tree with a well-developed central leader system. And be sure the tree was properly pruned at the nursery. Proper pruning at a young age is important for live oaks long term. Most home gardeners should plant trees growing in 3- to 15-gallon containers, although you can purchase live oaks that are much larger. It is hard, however, for an average homeowner to handle planting trees larger than those growing in a 15-gallon container.

When planting, be sure to follow LSU AgCenter tree-planting recommendations:

– Make the planting hole the same depth and two to three times as wide as the container in which the tree has been growing.

– Make the sides of the planting hole rough, not smooth.

– Refill the planting hole with the same soil that came out of it.

– Do not amend this backfill soil with compost, pine bark or similar materials.

– Water the tree during the planting process to eliminate dry pockets that will desiccate the new growing roots.

– Mulch trees after planting.

Be sure to give your new live oak tree adequate room. Most of the time, live oaks are now planted on 30-foot-by-30-foot spacing. This is, however, way too close. You also see live oaks planted on 60-foot-by-60-foot spacing. This is OK. But ideally, live oaks need to be planted on 90-foot centers.

We all see live oaks in front yards that have basically no room for a tree this large. Also, live oaks routinely are planted between streets and sidewalks. Once again, this is the wrong tree in the wrong place. Be sure to plant live oaks where they have room to grow and do what they want to do. Fertilizing live oaks is not recommended the first year after planting. You can start a fertilization program thereafter.

Live oaks are one of our most important trees, so if you have one, provide proper care.

You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.

Rick Bogren

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