English Oak TreeQuercus robur
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The English Oak is certainly the most famous and well-known of all oak trees, featuring in history, poetry, literature and popular stories. Relatively slow-growing, it will in time reach 70 feet tall and wide, so it should be used in a large garden, as a shade tree, specimen or edging woodland. It has a potential life of 500 years or more. The rugged bark is very dark-gray, and broken into plates like the hide of a crocodile. The leaves are thick and very dark green, with rounded lobes down each side, and older trees produce acorns. Leaves turn yellow and then brown in fall, and tend to stay late on the tree through winter. The trunk is very thick, and older trees have wide spreading branches, naturally rising low from the trunk unless trimmed.
Plant your English Oak in full sun, or where it will soon grow into the sun. It grows in any well-drained soil, and while growing well in acid soils, it also grows well in alkaline soils (rare among oaks) and even on limestone. Established trees have good drought resistance and this is a good choice for areas with low rainfall that are not too hard. Not for zone 9. Generally free of any serious pests or diseases. Natural habit is with low, spreading branches, so prune up early and keep a central leader stem for a more upright tree.
Although we in America have a selection of some of the world’s best oak trees as wild species, there is something special about the English Oak that makes it worthy of a place in any garden. One important thing is its relative hardiness, growing in zone 4 where many of our own oaks won’t thrive. Another is the mythic place it holds in the European consciousness, and its part in so many stories, not least in Lord of the Rings. Yet another is its ability to grow in more alkaline soils than many other oaks. Last, but certainly not least, is its incredible beauty and aura, radiating strength and longevity, and awing us with its size. No wonder the English call it the ‘king of the forest’. It also played an important role in the settlement of the east, traveling with the colonists and so seen in many old parks, cities and gardens of the north-east as grand, ancient specimens. If you have the room, you too can have an English Oak, and even if you don’t get to see it in its full grandeur, your children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and future generations will. After all, it lives for 500 years or more, so it could still be standing half-way through this millennium, in 2500.
The English Oak is a large deciduous tree that grows 12 to 16 inches a year, eventually reaching as much as 70 feet in height and spread. The largest trees in the country are almost 100 feet tall and wide. Given its potential 500-year life, don’t plant within 35 feet of your home, any other buildings, roads, property boundaries, or beneath overhead wires. Consider if your property has room for a tree of that size, or grow it for a few years in a large pot, or as a bonsai tree if you don’t – it makes a great bonsai. Younger trees are more upright, but in time it becomes more spreading, with a wide, rounded crown and spreading semi-horizontal branches. The main trunk becomes massive, covered with dark-gray to near-black rugged bark, cracked and broken like alligator hide.
The thickish leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, divided into 5 or 7 shallow lobes – the classic ‘oak leaf’ shape. They are bright green in spring, turning dark-green to blue-green in summer, and yellow-green in fall. Leaves are slow to fall, and can persist well into winter. In spring established trees produce greenish-yellow catkins, and develop clusters of inch-long acorns. Branches of brown leaves and acorns make attractive winter decorations indoors, and as wreaths. The acorns are bitter, and need treatment to be made into an edible flour, but squirrels, deer, turkeys and other wildlife will eat them.
The English Oak is a wonderful specimen tree for planting on a large lawn, or in open fields, at the edges of woodlands, and anywhere there is room. Consider it as a great choice for a commemorative planting for a birth, wedding, or to honor a loved one. Special occasions worth remembering deserve trees with long memories.
The English Oak is as hardy as any oak available, and more hardy than most. It grows well in zone 4 and through all warmer areas into zone 8. In the hot south-east our native oaks may be more suitable – see our current selection.
Plant your new English Oak in a sunny place, or in partial shade where it will soon grow into the sun. Plant it in any well-drained soil, and this tree is very superior to other oaks for planting on alkaline soils, and even on limestone. It also grows in acid soils just fine. Once established it has good drought tolerance, and it is a good choice for planting in areas with low rainfall.
Although the English Oak is renowned for the vast number of insect species it supports, almost all of these are specialized, do little or no damage, and are not pests. In hot, humid areas harmless powdery mildew may grow on the leaves in summer, but otherwise it is normally disease-free. The natural habit of this tree is to grow with low branches radiating outwards, so if you want a taller trunk, keep one central stem growing and remove lower branches early, to prevent scarring.
English Oak, Quercus robur, grows naturally all the way from Ireland and Britain to the Caucasus mountain in Georgia. It was once the dominant tree in vast, ancient forests that covered almost all of Britain and Europe. Remnants of these forests persist in Hungary and Poland, but ancient trees can be seen everywhere, especially in Britain, where they are revered. For centuries the wood was used for ship-building (which is why there are so few forests left) and it is still valued for house-building, paneling, floors and furniture.
If you have a sense of romance and mystery, then the English Oak is for you. If you love beautiful trees and want to leave a legacy to the middle of this millennium, then plant one. The special magic of this tree will soon make you love yours, but order now, because our stock is low, and this majestic tree is always in high demand.