Southerners have a love affair with live oaks

Edna Szymoniak Oak Study 7 1280X683The Edna Szymoniak live oak at the entrance to the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station near Hammond, Louisiana. Photo by William Guion

(02/12/16) HAMMOND, La. – “Southerners have a love affair with the live oak, and rightly so,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.

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, Owings said.

It is also one of the few tree species that has their own society of which all members – except for one human custodian – are live oak trees themselves. The Live Oak Society, under the auspices of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, 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, or “waistline,” of 8 feet or greater. Trees with girths over 16 feet are classified as centenarian. “At the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station, we have eight trees registered as members of the Live Oak Society,” Owings said.

The two most notable named trees at the station are 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 the lofty boughs as they enter the station,” Owings said.

Visitors to the LSU campus in Baton Rouge are aware of the majestic presence of live oaks there. “Can you imagine the campus landscape without these trees being there?” he asked.

Winter through early spring is the best to care for live oak trees. “From selecting trees at the garden center to planting, pruning and fertilization, this is the time of year for live oak maintenance,” Owings said.

“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,” he said. “Proper pruning at a young age is important for live oaks long term.”

Most homeowners should select trees growing in 3- to 15-gallon containers, although they can purchase live oaks that are much larger, he said. It is hard, however, for an average homeowner to handle trees larger than these.

Live oaks originating from seed sources in Louisiana will grow best in Louisiana. “What better reason to buy local?” Owings said

Be sure to give a new live oak tree adequate room. Most of the time, live oaks are planted on 30-foot-by-30-foot spacing, which is way too close, Owings said. A 60-foot-by-60-foot spacing is OK. But ideally, live oaks need to be planted on 90-foot centers.

“Live oaks in front yards have basically no room, and between streets and sidewalks is the wrong tree in the wrong place,” he said. “Be sure to plant live oaks where they have room to grow and do what they want to do.”

When planting any tree, Owings said, be sure to follow LSU AgCenter tree-planting recommendations that are available online at

“Live oaks are one of our most important trees,” Owings said. “Provide proper care to these great trees, and you will enjoy for multiple generations.”

2/12/2016 5:41:50 PM
Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture