Oak trees are seldom thought of as trees you can plant around the home. They don't flower vividly. They tend to grow much too slowly. But in the fall, as the acorns begin to fall and the leaves begin to change, the beauty and strength of an oak tree are apparent. The majesty of grand old oaks is hard to describe.
If you plant an oak, it will take a while for it to reach that level. But it doesn't take forever for oaks to put on a significant amount of growth.
Here are a few species that will do well in our area:
Overcup Oak ranks very high on the list as one of the top landscape trees. It is relatively fast growing — averaging 2.2 feet per year — with a beautiful round-headed canopy, very uniform growth habit, and easy to transplant. It tolerates low and moist sites, high and dry sites, and even the compacted soil found in urban areas. Overcup Oaks have a little yellow fall color and tend to drop all their leaves at one time, making it much easier to rake.
White Oak, a reputedly slow-growing species, is considered very long-lived, has good fall color and excellent bark characteristics. Recent research revealed that it can grow faster than believed, at about 1.9 feet per year. The lobed leaves with rounded tips turn russet to rich red wine in the fall, typically holding their color for several weeks. This particular species is often planted as a legacy tree.
Chestnut Oak is one that you rarely find in the home landscape. Native to the upper slopes and hills of Alabama and the northeastern United States, chestnut oaks are most noted and remembered for their big chestnut leaves and large colorful acorns. The big leaves give it a course texture. It transplants easily, has yellow fall color, with a fast growth rate of about 2.7 feet per year. This long-lived tree is gaining popularity and is being used more in landscape settings.
Willow Oak, another native oak, is an outstanding landscape tree. Willow oaks are used most often as a shade trees in landscapes and as street trees in urban areas, because they tolerate various living conditions, transplant well and grow fast — about 2.7 feet per year. The lance-shaped leaves turn yellow to golden brown in the fall.
Shumard Oak is native to the U.S. but not to Alabama. This tree is becoming more popular in the landscape since it is very adaptable to dry or moist, acid or alkaline sites. It transplants well, is fast growing at about 2.9 feet per year, and develops a nice crown even as a young tree. The leaves, which are typical of most red oaks, are dark, lustrous green and turn orange red in the fall.
Sawtooth Oak is native to Japan, Korea, China and India but has found a place in Alabama. It is used often in the landscape because of its rapid growth rate — an average 3.7 feet per year. Although it has insignificant fall yellow color, it transplants well and is often planted to get that "instant tree." Because of its fast growth rate and heavy acorn crop, sawtooth oak is sometimes called the "deer oak" and is planted frequently by hunters and landowners. (Don't plant one close to your house unless you want lots of acorns and wildlife visitors.)
Shane Harris is a Regional Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System serving East Central Alabama.