Oak is a highly valued tree, and has been for thousands of years. It is rich in symbolism and cultural significance. Not only is it the national tree of the United States, it’s also the national tree of England, France, Germany, Poland, Wales, Cyprus, Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Latvia and Serbia (just to name a few). There are over 600 species of oak, but they are notably long-lived. In the past they’ve been valued for their hardness and grain. Oak makes beautiful furniture, and quarter-sawn oak timber was often in high demand for use in church arches.
It might seem odd that a tree that is so common is so highly prized, but people get attached to their oaks. Oaks are stately, elegant, and long-lived. Many people maintain rituals of planting trees at the beginning of a marriage or on the occasion of the birth and watching the tree grow and develop alongside the family.
The Proper Care For Oaks
With any item of such beauty and personal significance, it’s always wise to take the time to learn how best to maintain it. Oaks are quite hardy, but in fact the easiest way to kill it is with kindness — oaks do not like to have too much water. In fact, the most difficult situation for oaks is when they are planted in a lawn that gets meticulously watered. (A fine excuse for refusing to water the lawn, in my view.)
Oaks are happiest in wet winters and dry summers. Eastern oaks are able to tolerate more watering than Western Oaks. West Coast oaks are particularly troubled by a water-borne mold that causes “Sudden Oak Death.” Luckily this disease has not made it east of the Rockies.
This type of tree doesn’t need much pruning. They are well-behaved in general, and their branches grow at strong angles from the main trunks. In forests, oaks tend to be tall and not overly sprawling, but given room to spread out, it can grow to 80 feet wide, and just as tall.
So keep that in mind when you plant an oak tree. That oak will not just grow into its space, it will completely dominate the yard. And while a mature oak will add to your property value, if it’s too big for its space, it can cause a hazard.
In short, it’s not hard to keep an oak tree happy. Mulch it tidily, don’t bother to water, and prune only when necessary, and that tree will see your grandchildren in rocking chairs one day.
How to Mulch your Oak Tree
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, one of the most important steps you can take to promote the health and beauty of your oak tree is to make sure you are mulching it correctly. Mulching is important for trees, and especially important for oak trees, because you could say that providing your new tree with plenty (but not too much!) of the right kind of mulch gives it a taste of home. That is, proper mulching will promote the health and happiness of your oak tree by providing it with many of the same nutrients it would receive in a forest environment, and by protecting its roots from the elements and human interference.
So what type of mulch should you use? There is no one type of mulch that an oak tree needs, but generally, experts recommend using organic rather than inorganic mulch. There are many types of mulch on the market, some made only from natural materials, with others being based in rock, rubber or plastic. These inorganic types of mulch can be useful for some projects, but when mulching your tree, you should opt for an organic mulch. This is better for trees because organic mulch will decompose over time, enriching your soil with additional nutrients and keeping the tree well-fed as well as protected.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect mulch, apply it to your oak tree as soon as possible. Some lawn experts say that spring is the best time of year to add new mulch, when a lot of trees, including oaks, do their most root growth, a process which benefits greatly from mulching.
It’s important not to overmulch, or “volcano mulch,” your oak tree. In most cases, 2-4 inches of mulch is the perfect amount for oak trees, with the pile tapering off as it reaches the edges, mostly for aesthetic purposes. There are many issues that you can run into if you put too much mulch around your tree. These issues include suffocating your tree’s roots, attractive harmful pests, and overheating your tree’s roots and trunk, which inhibits ideal growth and tree health.
While you should make sure not to pile your mulch too high, you also want to make sure you use enough of it. Using enough mulch is easily completed by using the 2-4 inch rule mentioned earlier, but how wide should you spread the mulch? This is ultimately up to you, but as long as the mulch isn’t too deep, the general rule is the more the better. Most tree experts recommend spreading your mulch to the “tree line,” or the spot on the ground directly beneath where your tree’s branches extend to. As your tree grows, you can add mulch to follow the tree line. That is the best way to tell how far to spread the mulch. In terms of where to start, you want to make sure you are giving your oak tree at least a few inches of breathing room around its base. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to see where the tree’s roots enter the ground – start mulching just beyond this point.