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Keeping Your Live Oaks Alive

Throughout Clay County, the stately Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is adored as a shade and ornamental tree.  The large trunks, sometimes up to six feet in diameter, carry limbs that droop under their own weight over time and often covered with strands of Spanish moss.  These trees can live for centuries if properly cared for and with a height of 40 to 60 feet and a spread of 60 to 100 feet, they are perfect for any large scale landscape.

Proper Culture

Given proper growing conditions, a Live Oak will thrive.  They feature a strong wind resistance and make an excellent street tree.  The tree does best in moist, acid soil but they are very well adapted to drought.  Irrigation or fertilization is rarely needed once established.

Diseases and pests are also rare for the Live Oak in Florida, with some feeding by aphids, scale, and caterpillars that can be messy.  You may see galls, tumorous growths on the trees, but they are most often nothing to worry about.  Canker diseases, which look like open wounds on the tree, can be an issue and diseased or dead branches should be pruned out.

You may want to think twice about planting the live oak too near to paved hours as the roots can lift sidewalks, driveways, and patios.

Pruning

Pruning is an often overlooked part of tree care but is essential for the development of the Live Oak.  Eliminate multiple trunks or branches to develop a strong, central leader.  Branches that come off of the main trunk at narrow angles should be eliminated.  Pruning should be done every year for the first three years after planting and then every five years until age 30.

Oftentimes, it can be helpful to consult or hire an arborist to conduct the pruning of your tree.  To find an arborist in your area see www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/ .

Protect the Roots

While having a reputation as a tough, durable tree, Live Oaks can be permanently damaged or killed by disturbing their roots.  Be very careful to dig and disturb the root zone of the tree, which often extends out as far as its.  New construction around Live Oaks can sometimes lead to death but it is a slow process, often being the last tree to die after disturbance.  Vehicle traffic over the root zone should also be avoided.

Another hazard to Live Oak Roots can come from chemical use in the lawn, as MSM has been shown to affect and possibly kill the trees if applied to the root zone.

Other Live Oaks

Other than the common southern Live Oak, other varieties exist and could have a place in the landscape.  For example the Sand Live Oak (Quercus virginiana var. germinate) grows on sandy soil with a more upright and open growth habit.  The leaves on this tree are thicker and tend to curl and the tree can be better as a street tree as it is smaller in size.

For more information about these stately trees, see https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/st564