How to Properly Space Ornamental Oak Trees


Oak trees (Quercus spp.) in general are large-growing plants that need ample space to reach their full potential in the landscape. Proper spacing of an ornamental oak is dependent on the specific oak species. Its mature size determines the space required to ensure its roots and branches are not encroached upon by other trees, buildings, or utility lines. Learn the oak's identity and expected spread of canopy at maturity to inform your spacing.

Step 1

Learn the identity of the oak tree species you are planting. Ask the nursery professional or consult the plant label, looking for both the common and scientific name. The scientific name is vital to the absolute identifcation of the plant as well as finding information specific for the tree.

Step 2

Consult online or print literature on your oak species, noting the mature height and spread. For example, according to Michael Dirr's book, "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs", a scarlet oak, Quercus coccineus, grows to a height of 75 feet high and 50 feet wide. Write down or memorize the spread of the tree, here being 50 feet.

Step 3

Divide the expected mature spread of the oak tree in half. This is the minimum distance it should be planted in proximity to other large trees, power lines, buildings or busy roadways. In the case of the scarlet oak forementioned, it should be planted no closer than 25 feet from a building or other shade tree.

Step 4

Position the oak so that as it grows to its mature height, it will not infiltrate or obscure important features such as utility lines. This should also be taken into consideration around facilities that need clearance and unimpeded views such as airports or law enforcement and correctional facilities.

Tips and Warnings

  • Oaks may be planted more closely together initially, but as they grow, their branches will encroach and eventually only the more robust, stronger trees will survive, choking out the weaker plants for water, nutrients and sunlight. Avoid the urge to plant trees closely or in too small of yards for instant effect, for when the tree becomes huge later, appreciable costs will be incurred to remove the tree. There may also be damage sustained when the branches or roots uplift concrete surfaces or threaten house eaves and roofs.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure


  • Iowa State University: Tree Planting: Planning
  • Oak Tree Planting
  • Univ. of Minnesota: Woodland Owners' Guide to Oak Management
Keywords: planting shade trees, oak, tree spacing

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.