How to Care for Your Red Oak

How to Care for Your Red Oak

Majestic, stately, grand -- these are all words that are used to describe the beautiful red oak tree. The red oak is a staple in many yards in the United States and for good reason. It's sturdy, reliable, picturesque, easy to care for... the list goes on and on.

Whether you're looking to plant a Red Oak or you already have one, you've come to the right place. Today, we're going through our complete guide on how to care for your Red Oak.

Keep reading for our tips on how to grow and nurse your oak!


What is the Red Oak?

This tree is a species of oak tree, America's national tree. The northern red oak, Quercus rubra, is known for its grandiosity. The tree grows to be very large in maturity: up 60 to 75 feet tall with a canopy spread of 45 feet wide. 

During the spring, the red oak's pointed, bristle-like leaves are a vibrant yellowish-green hue. As the summer progresses, the leaves shift to a brilliant deep, shining red or yellow. During this time, the red oak's great canopy offers dense shade, making it the perfect tree to sit and read a book under.

However, what makes the red oak a real showstopper are its beautiful fall colors. There's no doubt that, during this time, you'll see lovely hues of bright red and yellow dazzling the landscape around. These pigments provide a marvelous contrast to the tree's distinctive reddish-brown bark, which is marked by rounded ridges.

The red oak is a deciduous tree. This means that right at the end of autumn, it will shed its leaves to prepare for winter. The red oak is fairly fast-growing compared to other types of oak trees and can grow up to 2 feet per year.

You'll most likely find the red oak in the northeast of the United States and southeast of Canada, in areas extending from Nova Scotia through Ontario. The tree grows best in cool to mild climates. We recommend only growing a red oak if you live in Hardiness Zones 3-8.


Image shows a single, red oak.
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Growing Your Red Oak

Congrats on choosing the red oak as the next addition to your yard, landscape, garden, etc.! Before you dive right into planting, there are some considerations you'll have to take into account. After all, a little planning never hurts anybody, right?


Picking the Right Location

The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing where to grow your oak tree is how much space you have. The red oak tree is known for growing to be very large, both above and below the ground. 

Before it's time to plant, scope out your yard. Wherever you plant your tree should have a radius of at least 20 feet of open space on all sides.

Note any nearby structures, such as buildings, powerlines, and underground utility lines. It is essential that you give your tree enough space between these structures, as you do not want to have branches or roots interfering with them. 



We recommend planting your tree in the early spring or fall, so the roots can get established before hot, dry temperatures arrive. 

Before planting, consider adding compost or manure to the soil. The red oak tends to grow to its best potential when its soil contains higher levels of mycorrhizal fungi and other microbes. Thus, adding compost or manure is extremely beneficial when planting, especially if you live in an urban environment.

When choosing your sapling, we suggest purchasing a root ball over an acorn. These tend to be more efficient and easier to maintain.

Dig a hole twice the width and the same depth as the sapling. Put the root ball in this hole and carefully fill it with soil. Then, water immediately so that the soil is moist. 


Image shows a single, large, Red Oak tree


Caring for Your Red Oak

Your red oak is going to require the most maintenance in the first few years after planting. This is when the tree is growing most rapidly and is at its peak vulnerability to external conditions. Once the tree is established, it is fairly low-maintenance.



You will want to make sure your red oak is planted in a spot where it can receive full sun. In order to thrive, oaks need about 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. If the tree is in partial shade, it is alright long as it can get the sun exposure it needs.



Just after planting, red oaks require a great amount of water as the roots become established. We recommend watering the tree deeply once a week, especially during periods of dry weather. A general rule to follow is to use about 10 gallons of water or soak to a depth of about 2 feet.

Fortunately, mature trees are very easy to handle when it comes to watering. Red oaks are fairly tolerant of drought. As long as you receive rain once in a while, you will not need to water your tree.



Red oak trees grow best in acidic soil, as alkaline soil can cause iron deficiencies. The easiest way to determine whether your soil is fit for the job is to purchase a pH testing kit. We recommend aiming for a soil pH between 4.0 to 7.5.

Red oaks prefer sandy soil textures but will grow well in any consistency as long as it is well-draining. 



In general, your red oak should not need any additional means of fertilization. This is because it is a very hardy and tolerant tree. In particular, avoid fertilizing a newly planted oak.

However, in some cases, the soil around your oak tree might have nitrogen deficiencies. If this seems to affect the plant's growth, then it is appropriate to add supplemental fertilizer. In this case, apply a slow-release fertilizer with higher concentrations of nitrogen as opposed to phosphorus or potassium.



To give your tree a healthy appearance, you may opt to prune your red oak. When pruning your tree, trim off dead, diseased, or damaged limbs. Make sure to avoid cutting any living tissue. Once you are finished, bandage the limbs at the spots where you have pruned.

If your tree is in its first few years of growing, only trim off the dead or damaged branches. For mature trees, you may prune branches growing near the center of the tree to create a better shape. However, only do so sparingly. 

Make sure to only prune your tree in the winter; otherwise, there may be a risk of oak wilt. Oak wilt is a disease carried by insects and pests feeding on the sap of pruned limbs. This may be fatal to your red oak and is best avoided.


Image shows Red Oak Leaves in the winter



As you start your red oak journey, we hope this detailed guide gives you all the information you need to feel confident and prepared. Good luck and happy planting!

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