Often we are given to focusing on the ground beneath our feet, or the space that occupies our eye line, when considering what to plant in our gardens, whether they are large or small. If you are lucky enough to have the room then trees can bring so much to the space around you as well as offering invaluable long term environmental benefits. After the first year or two trees need little maintenance or pruning, and usually look after themselves with just a little routine care. This also applies to Willow Oak, which tolerates transplanting very well. If well-chosen and managed, their ultimate stature and spread is a wonderful asset to any garden or space, providing rich color, texture and scents with catkins, flowers and fruits that benefit wildlife of many shapes and sizes. The willow oak provides all of these things and is a common sight in much of the country due to its speed of growth and impressive size, and it also displays a delicate texture and subtle charm that tends to be lacking in many other oaks.
The hardy nature of this tree means it is suited to many different areas, from well drained moist loams to poor drainage clays. That means it can thrive in various different soil environments but it does show a preference to medium wet, well drained soils in full sun. This said, Willow Oak adapts very well and can be equally at home in partial shade. It is also considered generally tolerant of urban pollution which expands the planting opportunities of this tree greatly. As is the case with all sizeable trees, consideration must be given to the proximity of houses, paths and roads when planting as ill thought out placement can cause future problems when roots and structures come to battle it out for space. Tree roots can be very persistent in laying claim to the space they require.
Aside from the obvious benefits to be had from the pleasure of beholding trees in both country and urban environments, there is much to be said for the role they play in nature in areas where birds and mammals might otherwise struggle for food. Willow Oak provides food and shelter for a great many creatures.
As Food Source
- Blue Jay
- Eastern Gray Squirrel
- Eastern Chipmunk
- Common Crow
- White-Breasted Nuthatch
- Virginia Opossum
- Meadow Vole
- White Tailed Deer
- Black Rat Snake
- Carolina Chickadee
- Wood Duck
- Polyphemus Moth
- Tufted Titmouse
These are just a few examples of the richness this tree can bring to your environment, thanks to the high volume of acorns it produces and the relatively dense foliage that its narrow willow-like leaves provide as protection.
When planting young and small trees care must be taken to protect the sapling from those animals that tend to feast on the delicate young foliage, such as deer. Consideration must also be given to the potential for standing water; although Willow Oak enjoys wet environments and, when outside of the urban environment, is most at home in wetlands and alongside canals, the roots themselves will not actually venture into standing or moving water. Permanent standing water can actually kill the root system so while wet soil is preferable good drainage is a must.
The willow oak is native to bottom lands of the Coastal Plain from New Jersey and south-eastern Pennsylvania to Georgia and northern Florida; west to eastern Texas; and north in the Mississippi Valley to south-eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, south-eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Kentucky, and western Tennessee.
As mentioned, the willow oak is an excellent shade tree and is one of the few that offers the ability to properly garden beneath be it lawns or beds. Although the tallest recorded stands at an impressive 123 feet, under normal conditions you can expect around 60 feet and this is achieved at a faster rate than many other trees of its ilk, with up to two feet of growth expected per year in ideal conditions. It is relatively fuss free, but it is worth affording it some skilled pruning when young in order to encourage the development of a good crown. Large trees can often be the cause of much frustration with regards to raking and maintaining the ground beneath them as leaves drop, the Quercus phellos however provides leaf litter that not only avoids the need for raking but also makes for good mulch.
Overall, if you are looking for a highly attractive and interesting tree that will provide much needed shelter and food for a wide range of wildlife then Willow Oak is the ideal tree for any garden or space that will afford the room to grow and develop. Rich with color and interest, with stunning fall foliage and the ability to adapt to many environments, it comes highly regarded and recommended and will bring generations of joy.