A member of the beech family, oaks (Quercus species) make highly attractive shade trees that produce fruits called acorns. The trees require little maintenance once established, making them ideal for landscapes and gardens with enough space for the trees to grow and produce acorns for years to come.
More than 600 species, divided into two groups, fall into the oak tree family. The red oak group features trees with bristles or points on the leaves and acorns that take two growing seasons to mature. The red oak group includes water, willow, black and Japanese evergreen oak trees. The other group, white oaks, features leaves with rounded ends and points with no bristly tips. These trees bear acorns that mature during the same growing season that they appear. The white oak tree falls into this group.
While it depends on the species, oaks can grow up to 100 feet in height. Oak trees grow as either deciduous or evergreen trees. Deciduous trees tend to grow large trunks and limbs, making the tree very interesting even in winter. Deciduous oak trees sport broad leaves, while evergreen oak tree leaves are dark and glossy. Both types feature tiny, almost unnoticeable flowers.
Oak trees start producing acorns once they reach about 20 years in age, although some trees grow for 50 years before the first acorns appear. The trees usually produce acorns during the fall every other year. The tree yields more acorns the older it gets, with the oldest trees producing thousands of acorns in a season.
Oak trees grow from acorns planted in the ground or as transplants available from nurseries. Keep in mind the mature size of the tree when you choose a planting location so the tree gets plenty of space to spread out. Oak trees thrive in well-drained, loose soil. To grow the trees from acorns, choose nuts still on the tree rather than the dry fruits lying on the ground. Refrigerate the nuts until planting time, anywhere from November through March. Plant the acorns about 1 inch deep, then add a layer of mulch to the planting area to help retain moisture.
Oak trees make great additions to the landscape where they provide shade and year-round visual interest. The wood from the oak tree consists of a tough, attractive grain prized for lumber. The wood is also used for furniture, flooring and cabinetry. Industrial uses of oak wood include railroad ties, barrels, tool handles and veneers. The bark of the oak tree can be used in medicine and for dyes. Acorns are often used for hog feed.
The acorns from the oak tree make a great food source for a wide variety of wildlife and birds, including squirrels, deer and woodpeckers. The tree itself offers shelter for small mammals and birds. Birds also use the tree for nesting. Cavities in the trees provide homes, temporary shelter and roosting spots for both birds and animals year-round.