The willow oak (Quercus phellos) has been name a Louisiana Super Plants selection for fall 2013.
Native to Louisiana, willow oaks are deciduous trees that make outstanding shade trees. Like most oaks, they are large-growing, eventually reaching a height of about 80 feet with a width of 50 feet at maturity. Compared to other oaks, they are relatively fast growing.
The growth habit is an upright, oval shape that fits well into the typical size of suburban lots. This makes a difference compared to the popular live oak (Quercus virginiana).
Likely the most popular oak species for landscape planting, the live oak matures at a height of 50 feet and a width of 75 feet or more. This wide, low-spreading growth habit means tree limbs tend to grow into neighboring properties and out over the street. Because of this, live oaks have to be pruned throughout their lives in order to limit spreading and raise the canopy.
Oak species that have a naturally upright, narrower growth habit, such as the willow oak, require far less extensive pruning as they grow larger and mature. Generally, the only pruning that is needed is removing lower branches to raise the canopy to the desired height. This is often easily accomplished by the home gardener – while pruning live oaks generally needs to be done by licensed arborists.
Deciduous trees like willow oaks are excellent for use as shade trees. In the summertime they have full, leafy canopies that shade our homes and help reduce our air conditioning costs. But they drop their leaves in fall, and the leafless canopy during winter allows sunlight to shine on our homes. The sun is welcome during winter as it helps to heat our homes.
An outstanding feature of willow oaks is that they are so neat in fall when they drop their leaves. The leaves of willow oaks are uniquely shaped – long and narrow, about 3 or 4 inches long and only about one-half to 1 inch wide. They are shaped remarkably like willow tree leaves, which gives this oak its common name. Because the leaves are relatively small, they don’t make a big mess in the fall the way many other deciduous trees do.
The willow oak is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions and is suitable for planting throughout Louisiana.
When you add up the outstanding characteristics – a native tree with an upright oval growth habit, a shade tree with deciduous foliage, a relatively fast rate of growth, narrow willow-shaped leaves that don’t create a mess when they fall, small acorns that are eaten by wildlife and a wide adaptability to soils around the state – you can see why this tree is a Louisiana Super Plants selection for fall 2013.
The Louisiana Super Plants program is an educational and marketing campaign that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. New selections are announced and promoted each spring and fall.
Louisiana Super Plants have a proven track record, having gone through years of university evaluations and/or years of observations by industry professionals. Home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can benefit from using Louisiana Super Plants, which are “university tested and industry approved.”
For more information on Louisiana Super Plants and to find participating nurseries, go here and click on Where to Find Super Plants.
This is the perfect time of year to plant hardy trees in the landscape, so now is a great time to plant a willow oak and other shade trees, small flowering trees or fruit trees. It also is an excellent time to add hardy shrubs to Louisiana landscapes.
I wish more gardeners understood that fall is a primary planting season in Louisiana. For years horticulturists have tried to get the word out that November through February is the ideal time to plant hardy trees and shrubs in the landscape. Planting in late November and early December is especially good because trees and shrubs planted now benefit in several ways.
The plants are dormant during this time and are less likely to suffer as much from transplant shock. In addition, the cool weather and regular rainfall typical during the winter here allow the new plantings to settle in and adjust with little stress (and less work for you watering them). Hardy trees and shrubs are not damaged by normal winter freezes, even if newly planted.
The roots of trees and shrubs will actively grow during fall and early winter, so planting in fall allows them to become well established prior to spring growth. Trees and shrubs planted over the next six weeks will have developed better-established root systems by May, than those planted in spring. This will increase their ability to absorb water and survive that first stressful summer after planting.
As an added benefit to you, the staffs at area nurseries and garden centers are far less busy this time of the year. Crowded nurseries in the spring mean it is harder for you to get individual attention. Choosing the proper trees and shrubs for your landscape is an important decision. This time of year, nursery staff can focus more easily on you and help you find the right plants.
So, try to get out of the common mindset that focuses on spring as the main season for planting trees and shrubs and installing a landscape. This is something you need to be thinking about and doing now.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu