The city had to take down our beautiful live oak a few weeks ago. It was growing between our driveway and the next door neighbor’s driveway. We want to replace the tree and our landscaper suggests a red oak. What is the difference in the two oaks and what are the strengths of each? This is a very sunny spot with great soil.
I think that your landscaper is correct; live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are notorious for producing extensive lateral surface root systems that can damage structures – like driveways – as well as underground utilities, whereas red oaks tend to form vertical root systems that don’t usually pose those issues. Live oaks also cast very low, dense, spreading shade that is too dark for turf or other plants to grow in, while red oaks form a higher, more upright, canopy that allows enough light for many types of plants to flourish underneath.
Live oaks are one of my all-time favorite trees, but may not be the best choice for the situation that you describe. Let’s explore the red oak option; there are many species of North American “red oaks” that are botanically placed in their own special group. In our area the Nuttall oak (Quercus texana) is widely regarded as the best of the lot for home landscapes. It has non-invasive roots, a tall straight trunk, and a canopy that turns an eye-popping bonfire-scarlet color in the autumn. Although it is a long-lived tree that will eventually become a majestic specimen reaching 100-120 feet tall, it is fairly fast-growing and will be an immediate asset to your landscape. It also withstands periodic flooding and is drought tolerant once established. What more could anyone want in a shade tree?
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