Live oak trees have strong, sweeping branches and a distinctive shape.

How Far Apart Do You Have to Plant Live Oak Trees?

by G.D. Palmer

Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) make a landscaping statement that lasts. These stately trees can live for centuries, reaching majestic heights and developing broad leafy canopies. These evergreen trees' eventual size and spreading root system makes proper spacing at planting time essential, but the right live oak could be a charming addition to your home landscape.

1. Size

The live oak can live for up to 300 years, reach 80 feet in height and grow canopies up to 100 feet wide. Most specimens will average only about 40 to 60 feet in height and about 60 to 80 feet wide, but these dimensions can still make planting difficult. Live oak trees grow at a rate of 24 to 36 inches per year, so even relatively small saplings could soon interfere with utility wires, buildings or nearby plants. Live oaks have a broad root system that reaches as far as the edge of the canopy, or dripline.

2. Location

This species does best in partial shade to full sun in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. It prefers moist soil with excellent drainage. If you live in a drought-prone area, however, your live oak should be able to tolerate dry spells well once it becomes established. Incorrect planting conditions can stunt your live oak tree and make it more susceptible to disease.

3. Tree Spacing

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, live oak trees should each receive at least 180 square feet when initially planted. They should be 40 to 50 feet away from all other trees. Allow an additional 15 to 20 feet between the live oak and your home, driveway or any other structure. This allows for roots that may extend beyond the adult tree's canopy. When you first plant your live oaks, they may seem too small for this kind of spacing, but it will be necessary later. Fill in the gaps with short-lived landscape plants until the trees become established, but do not plant any species with spreading roots or a long lifespan.

4. Nearby Objects

Live oak roots tend to be shallow and close to the surface. This means that paving or landscaping activities could harm the tree. Avoid removing or adding soil to the area within 6 and 10 feet of the live oak tree's trunk, as this can damage its ability to obtain oxygen and surface water. Avoid paving under the tree canopy. If you must pave, use porous materials like brick set in sand or gravel. Keep these materials at least 15 feet away from the tree trunk. Do not mulch or otherwise cover the ground around the trunk or dripline as this can keep water from getting to the roots.

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