If you have ever been to Savannah or Charleston, one thing you notice are the large oak trees lining the historic streets. The tree is a live oak, Quercus virginiana, and is the state tree of Georgia.
Live oaks are native to the low, sandy soils near the coast, but also grow in the moist, rich woods and along the stream banks.
Live oaks are a magnificent tree for street plantings and for large estates, but they're not meant for small properties. They grow very large, ranging 40 to 80 feet in height and 60 to 100 feet in spread, and can live for centuries. During the earlier years of the tree's life, it can grow two to three feet a year, and up to one inch in girth.
The trees should be planted in large yards or parks, where the large spread can be accommodated. It will do well as a lawn specimen, provided it has an abundance of space. The tree is an evergreen in warmer areas, but does drop its leaves in colder climates.
Its wood is one of the heaviest native hardwoods - it can weigh 55 pounds per cubic foot when air dry. In the days of wooden ships, live oaks were the preferred source of the framework timbers of the ship. Live oak trees provided much of the lumber used use in the construction of the U.S.S. Constitution, aka "Old Ironsides."
Birds, squirrels, chipmunks and deer love the sweet-tasting acorn. A mature tree can produce thousands of acorns. The acorns will germinate soon after they drop.
The tree's waxy leaves make them tolerant to saltwater spray, so they're better able to grow along saltwater marshes and beaches. They grow best in the milder climates of the coastal plain, but it's not impossible to grow the trees in north Georgia. However, the live oaks will not grow to the size they reach in the coastal plains because of the colder winters and more clay soils.
Live oaks prefer sandy, loamy soils, but can tolerate more compacted, clay soils. Once the trees are established, they are very drought-tolerant. Live oaks prefer to be in full sun, but can tolerate some shade.
The deep roots of the tree, its short stature and strong wood help make it more resistant to toppling during high winds, such as a hurricane. Live oaks can tolerate construction activities and damage, and they're usually one of the last trees to die on land undergoing development.
If you decide to plant a Live oak, remember it will grow every large. In small yards, planting another tree that does not grow as tall and wide will probably be the best thing to do. If you have the space to grow these trees, in time you will have a beautiful, gigantic shade tree.
Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.