Oaks are a good choice for planning shade

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

I'm not sure why, but August seems to be the month when I get many inquiries about planting shade trees. When I make suggestions, I usually include several of the oaks. The response usually goes something like this, "Oaks grow too slow. They won't be big enough for shade until my great grandkids are adults."

"I'm tired of pin oaks. You see them everywhere."

"Those acorns are a real nuisance."

In a way, I guess I would have to agree with all the comments. Yet, I think with a little more information, you would see that a selection of one or more species of oak as part of a mixture of shade trees in your landscape is a good choice.

There is a trend in the landscaping industry that suggests you should use native species in your landscape. Because they are native, they should be well adapted to your landscape, have less disease and insect problems, and grow more vigorously. If this is the case, then oaks should be trees of choice since so many of them are found in the heartland. According to the book "Trees of Missouri" by Carl Settergen and R. F. McDermott there are 19 different species of oak that are native to Missouri. Of these, 16 species are found in Cape Girardeau County.

The Missouri oaks are usually divided by foresters into two groups, the red oaks and the white oaks. White oaks are characterized by having rounded lobes on their leaves with the absence of bristle tips, have generally light colored flaky bark and sweet acorns that mature in one year, and wood pores that are plugged with a structure called tyloses which makes them impermeable to liquids, thus making them useful for barrels. In addition the color of the wood is usually very light, thus considered white.

On the other hand, the leaves of red oak are distinguished by bristle tipped lobes, or if unlobed, the end of the leaf has one stiff bristle, the bark is usually dark in color and very rough, the acorns mature in two seasons and are bitter to the taste. Most of the species have wood without tyloses and the wood usually has a red tint to it, thus red oak.

Historically many of the native oak species were not readily found in landscape nursery catalogs, but each year I find more and more of the species are being sold at retail garden centers.

Here is a list of a few of those species along with some of the outstanding characteristics of each.

White oak

White oak is probably one of the most common and well-known species grown in Missouri. Although it prefers loamy soils, it is found growing in almost any soil type. Its large oval crown gives shade to a large part of my yard. In the fall the leaves turn a brilliant crimson red. Since it has a large tap root it is best to purchase this tree growing in a container.

  • Bur oak

    Occasionally you can find bur oak in some of the nursery catalogs. This member of the white oak group has the largest leaves of oaks in Missouri, as well as the largest acorns. It generally is found in areas of rich loamy soils. If you are looking for a potential champion tree in your landscape, bur oak is your choice. Some of largest trees in the central United States are bur oaks.

  • Pin oak

    Of course most of you are familiar with pin oak. It gets its name because the lobes of the pin oak resemble the pinnae of bird feathers. This rapid grower can be found in about any soil in the state. Its leaves turn a deep red in the fall. The pyramidal crown in young trees becomes oval at maturity. The acorns are small for oaks. Even though this tree has been planted a lot, there is still room for more in my landscape book.

    Northern red oak

    If you are tired of pin oak but like many of its characteristics, try planting Northern red oak. The leaf lobes are broader than those of pin oak, and they are pointed towards the tip. This tree also produces brilliant red fall color. On older trees the bark is deeply furrowed and gives your landscape a look of elegance.

    Scarlet oak

    Scarlet oak is found in drier soils in much of the Ozarks. If you have a dry sited landscape, give scarlet oak a try. Its crown develops a pyramidal shape similar to pin oak. Its rich fall color is a treat for anyone to see.

    Willow oak

    Willow oak is being used more and more by landscapers. It has a pyramidal shaped crown. Its leaves are unmistakable, because they resemble those of a willow tree, long and narrow. It prefers soils in bottomlands, but will do quite well in drier locations. Because the leaves are smaller, they are much easier to clean up during the fall raking season.

    I have just mentioned a few of the oaks that you might be interested in. If you plant them correctly, keep them watered during drought times, and fertilize them annually, you will find that they will grow rapidly and provide you with excellent shade from many seasons to come.

    Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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