The glory of native oaks

October is one of the best months for planting trees, and since it is less than a month away, now is a great time to start thinking about the size and type of tree that would work best in your landscape.

Given the current roasting we are having this summer, my mind at the moment drifts quickly to the shade trees, and my favorite trees of all time – the oaks.

Planted and watered properly, young trees will grow fast and can dramatically enhance our landscapes.

Apart from their beauty, there is a practical consideration too. If you plant them in the right place, shade trees will cool off the air around your home and help offset costly utility bills.

We have two native Texas oaks that are considered evergreen: the live oak and the Mexican white oak. Both hold their foliage throughout the winter months, but then shed their leaves around the end of February – early March. Spring growth follows in 2 to 3 weeks.

Evergreen oaks are also highly effective as windbreaks and privacy screens. In addition, when planted on the east, south and west sides of a house, they’ll provide you with winter shade.

On the Texas Superstars list and one of my favorite Texas native shade trees is the Chinquapin oak.

What makes this deciduous shade tree so wonderful is its uncommon appearance. The leaves can be 6 to 8 inches long and 4 inches wide.

The leaf color is deep green on top with a whitish underside. Unlike the smooth leaf of the live oak, the Chinquapin’s leaves are toothed or serrated. Sometimes we call it the ‘Saw Tooth Oak.’

This magnificent shade tree fits so well with the central Texas climate. It loves the heat and does well in our alkaline soil. It’s very drought resistant and has few problems with insects and disease or pests.

Plant your Chinquapin on a well-drained location in full sun or just a little shade. With infrequent, deep waterings, this beauty can grow moderately fast, reaching an average height of 40 feet with an equal spread.

Chinquapin’s fall color is yellow to bronze, making it at top choice for fall color in the landscape. Their small acorns are loved by birds, squirrels, deer and wild turkeys.

For fall color, the Shumards (commonly known as the Texas red oak) are hard to beat. They carry their brilliant red/orange fall colors throughout November and December, and late trees can hold these colors even into January.

The stately Bur oak sheds its big leaves without fall color change.

However during the winter months you can enjoy the stark beauty of their bark and branching structure.

Considered slow growing, the oaks have often been overlooked by homeowners and property developers in their quest for fast growing shade trees. People have often made the mistake of choosing soft-wooded trees like Arizona ash, only to find a few years later that they are short lived and expensive to remove.

The oaks, however, when planted properly and watered on a regular basis, can grow as much as 3 feet a year in height and width. That’s fifteen feet in five years. Now that’s shade!

Happy gardening, everyone!

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