Have You An Oak in Your Garden?

The Cheerful Gardener says...

Ever since I started to actually look at an oak tree, I mean look at it, not glance at it in passing, I have been impressed by its architecture and its beauty. Then I started reading about it and have been agast at my previous ignorance. How could I have lived for 20 or more years surrounded by these majestic trees and have been so blind?

I was at a garden talk once on water conservation and met a person in the audience who seemed extremely bitter that her neighbor's yard had an oak tree and this prevented her from growing a lawn. She told me how she kept cutting off the branches and roots that came over to her yard. Wow, some people never cease to amaze me.

I wish the Chinese Elm tree in our backyard was an oak. Our backyard is not very large and it will only support one large tree of this size. But if the elm should ever die of old age...

There are four California Coast Live oaks in the parking lot of the shopping center behind our house and there are usually about 20-30 baby oaks in our garden every spring, thanks to the squirrels and jays, which I reluctantly pull up.

This edition is dedicated to the mighty oaks, to encourage people to go and read more on the impact from even a single oak tree on the ecology. And to encourage people to plant one or more in their gardens if they have the space for it.

And, if you already have one in your (or your neighbor's) backyard, then to re-affirm how lucky you are to live in the vicinity of a tree that is brimming with life. Read on, and hope you enjoy this edition.

For those of you who wanted to take my class on June 27th, in Palo Alto on how to replace your lawn and go green and all that good stuff, my apologies for cancelling this event due to family medical reasons. I hope to be able to offer this again in September. Watch the August edition of this magazine for an update on a new date and time for the class.

Tiburon Mariposa Lily (Calochortus tiburonensis) End of May, I went on a wildflower trip to Ring Mountain in the Tiburon peninsula north of San Francisco and was lucky to see and take pictures of the rare Tiburon Mariposa lily (Calochortus tiburonensis). Watch for a slide-show of this trip on the website sometime in July.

And, please, help us sustain this work and effort, tell your friends about this website, forward this magazine, and visit us again. And, as always, send us feedback, reply to this email, and we promise to listen.

Keep healthy and drink lots of water as you go out hiking this summer!

Founder--Native Again Landscape LLC

Bring An Oak Tree to Your Garden

The subject is so vast that it would take several volumes to address it in detail. My goal in this article is simply to highlight some interesting factoids and finally to provide a list of oak species that might be appropriate to your neighborhood.

The word oak comes from the old English ac. Species of oak trees cover a vast territory on Earth, spanning North to Central America, Europe, and East to China and Japan. Ecologists consider the oak to be a keystone species--from "The Life of an Oak" by Glenn Keator. This term refers to a species that has a huge number of interrelated plant and animal species in the local ecology, and without which all the interrelated species will disappear.

Valley Oak--Quercus lobata with interesting branch pattern

All oaks, by and large have interesting architecture. The picture above shows the twisted branches of a Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) at the UC Davis Arboretum. The photo below is that of the widely-lobed leaves of Valley Oak.

Widely lobed leaves of Valley Oak--Quercus lobata

The California Oak Foundation website is a mine of information. It tells you what to plant under oaks and they even have a free recipe booklet for preparing acorn meal under their merchandise page. An wonderful food source if you are vegetarian or in case of a prolonged earthquake aftermath and you need to gather nutrition to feed your family.

If you are conservation minded and want to do your bit for the environment, then note that even a single oak tree supports over 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, larvae, butterflies, and other plants, a bio-diversity that is un-paralleled by any other ecosystem on earth, not kidding here.

According to a paper by the Oak Foundation (see resources below), the California Climate Change center expects that California will be warmer by 4.7 to 10.5F by the end of the century. And this increase in temperature alone will destroy half of the oak woodland forests on top of the 750,000 acres which are targetted for cutting down for non-forest use. The diminished forest area will further escalate the carbon levels and temperatures. This will not give many of the earth species including humans enough time to evolve to tolerate these higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere and higher temperatures. The foot soldiers and primary targets of this silly war against the sun, earth, and atmosphere will be young children, the sick and the old. But ultimately no one will be spared.

In most parts of California, except where there is heavy snow or extreme temperatures as in the desert, you can grow an oak tree. If you are close to the coast with moderate temperatures, you can grow Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia). The photo below shows a Coast Live oak on the left next to a Blue Oak on the right in the Stanford dish walking area. Note the contrasting leaf color.

Coast Live oak (Quercus agrifolia) on left contrasting with the bluer leaves of Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii) on right

This tree is commonly seen on all the central coast foothills along with the Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii). In the central valley region, the majestic Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) will grow along streams and where more moisture is available.

For the dryer parts, use the Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii) or the Blue Oak. In the colder Northern interior you can grow the deciduous oaks such as the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) or the beautiful Black Oaks (Quercus kelloggii).

In the South the endangered Engelmann Oak (Quercus engalmanii) would be a great choice. If you would prefer a smaller oak, more like a shrub, then consider the Leather Oak (Quercus durata) which grows in rocky or serpentine soil in dry, hot, chaparral conditions. The photo below shows the lovely deep green leaves and beautiful pink flower of the Leather Oak--photo taken at the Edgewood Preserve.

Leather Oak leaves and flower (Quercus durata)

Whether you already have a single or multiple oaks on your property, eschew the non-native grass and grow many native species of plants which have evolved to thrive under oaks. Check out my website and the oak foundation website for species of plants that are compatible and will thrive under the different oak trees. And, it is actually better to leave the oak litter under the tree, it is part of the ecology, so you save on the mow-and-blow guys and reduce noise pollution and gas blower emissions into the atmosphere.

Happy oak growing!

Resources Books (all available from The Oak Foundation merchandise store):

"Oaks of California" by Bruce M. Pavlik et. al.

"The Life of an Oak" by Glenn Keator and Artwork by Susan Bazell

"Grandmother Oak" by Rosi Dagit, illustrated by Gretta Allison

Resources Websites:
The California Oak Foundation

"Oaks, CEQA, Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change" from the Oak Foundation

Old Knobbley--a 800-year old English Oak in Mistley, England

Sampling of oak trees from around the world

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The Cheerful Iris Issue#002: June 29th, 2009

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