Planting under an oak tree: what can you plant under oak trees

Oaks
are tough, magnificent trees that are integral parts of many western
ecosystems. However, they can be damaged easily if their very specific growth
requirements are altered. This often happens when homeowners try
landscaping beneath oaks. Can you plant under oak trees? Limited planting under
an oak tree is possible as long as you keep the tree’s cultural requirements in
mind. Read on for tips.

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Landscaping Beneath Oaks

Few trees add more character to a backyard than mature oaks.
They anchor the soil, offer shade in hot summers, and also provide room and
board for birds
and other wildlife.

Mature oaks also take up a lot of space. Their spreading
branches cast such deep shade in summer that you may wonder what will grow
under oak trees, if anything. The best way to address this question is to look
at oak woodlands in the wild.

Over their time on the planet oak trees have developed a
careful balance with nature. They grow in areas with wet winters and hot, dry
summers and have adapted to this climate. These trees soak up water in the wet
winters when low soil temperatures keep fungal diseases from developing.

They need little water in summer. An oak getting significant
irrigation in the summer can get deadly fungus diseases such as oak root fungus
or crown
rot, caused by the soil-borne fungus Phytophthora.
If you put in a lawn under an oak tree and water it, the tree will probably
die.

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What Will Grow Under Oak Trees?

Given their cultural needs, there are significant
limitations to planting under an oak tree. The only type of plants you can
consider for landscaping beneath oaks are plant species that do not need water
or fertilizer in summer.

If you visit an oak forest, you won’t see extensive
vegetation under oaks, but you will see clumping native grasses. You can
consider these for landscaping beneath oaks. A few ideas that deal well with
summer drought
include:

  • California fescue (Festuca californica)
  • Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
  • Purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra)

Other plants you may want to consider include:

  • Wild lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
  • California iris (Iris douglasiana)
  • Creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis)
  • Coral bells (Heuchera spp.)

In the areas at the dripline that get a little more sun, you
can plant manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora), wood rose (Rosa
gymnocarpa), creeping
mahonia (Mahonia repens), evergreen ribes (Ribes viburnifolium),
or azaleas
(Rhododendron).

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Tips for Planting Under an Oak Tree

If you decide to go ahead and put in plants under your oak,
keep these tips in mind. Oaks hate to have their soil compacted, drainage
patterns changed, or the soil level altered. Take care to avoid doing this.

Keep all plantings a significant distance from the tree
trunk. Some experts recommend not planting anything within 6 feet (2 meters) of
the trunk, while others suggest that you leave the soil completely undisturbed
within 10 feet (4 meters) from the trunk.

That means that all plantings must be done outside this
critical root area, near the tree’s dripline. It also means that you should not
irrigate this area in summer at all. You can use organic
mulches in the root area which can benefit the tree.