How to plant and care for live oak trees

Live oaks and Spanish moss

Why plant a live oak?

Live oak trees are durable, hardy trees that are especially resistant to damage from high winds. This means that a healthy oak will have a higher probability to survive most tropical storms and hurricanes, leaving you one less thing to worry about in the event of a big, destructive storm.

Oak trees also naturally add value to the landscape with their large, spreading crown and steady growth rate. Planting an oak on your property provides shade from the intensity of the sun and adds visual interest to your lawn. 

Environmentally, trees are good for the earth and good for your community, as well. Since oaks are long-lived, planting an oak tree is one way that you can invest in the future. By planting an oak, you give a gift to the people who will come after you are gone from the earth. 

How to plant a live oak?

Before you start planting your live oak, you will first need to know about where to plant the tree, when to plant the tree, and what to do to help the tree thrive in its first months on your property. After giving your tree a good start, it will eventually need less maintenance. 

Plant in full sun

Live oaks need full sun in order to thrive. Look for a place on your property where the oak tree will be exposed to full sun, even in its smallest stages. If your oak tree is grown in partial shade, it may grow slowly or may not thrive at all. 

Give it room

Avoid planting your live oak too close to your house, as its sprawling branches will drop leaves and may even drop branches on your home. Your live oak may develop a spread that is as wide as 120 feet. Plant your tree at least 15 feet from your home, and ideally more. In future years, if your tree does grow branches over your roof, it is highly recommended to have it trimmed.

Consider the appearance of your home

The tree will influence the way your property looks. Avoid planting your tree in a position that could block windows or the view of your front door. Mature trees that block the view of your front door to the street may prevent visitors from noticing your home. 

Know when to plant

The best time to plant your tree is during its dormant season. Live oaks are almost evergreen in the Southeast but will lose their leaves just before spring growth encourages new leaves to appear. This is their dormant stage, and planting your tree during this stage will give it a long growing season to make its recovery. 

Dig the right-size hole

Dig a hole that is about twice the size of the tree's root ball, but only as deep as the root ball. This makes it easier for your tree to spread its roots outward while giving the tree plenty of support from underneath. Once in the ground be sure not to bury the tree’s root flare; it is ideal to leave the root flare level with the surface or slightly above the surface rather than to bury it.  (Hint: Use a garden rake to put across the hole to make sure the tree is level with the surface.)

Mulch the tree

After placing the tree in its hole and replacing the soil around the root ball, spread mulch around the base of the tree. Keep the mulch away from the trunk to prevent the spread of fungus. Refresh mulch throughout the year to shade the roots, lock in moisture and protect your tree from intense heat.

What kind of ongoing maintenance does a live oak need?

Water is crucial in the first several months as your live oak settles in its new home. Water the tree weekly, soaking the ground each time. After the tree has been in its location for a couple of months, reduce watering to once every two weeks, and then cut back to once monthly. 

Do not overwater your tree. You do not need to water your tree if it is receiving adequate water from rainfall. Once the tree has been in the same location for a year, it should need no more supplemental watering except in dry seasons and in periods of drought. Watch your tree for signs of distress, like premature yellowing of leaves, black spots on the trees, and so on.