Long-lived live oak (Quercus virginiana) eventually matures 40 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 100 feet wide. When young, it has a rounded, tight canopy shape. With age it becomes wide-spreading with the lowest branches sprawling close to the ground.
The U.S. Forest Service recommends that live oak not be planted in landscapes that provide soil area less than 200 square feet. Depending on soil fertility and moisture, live oak is relatively fast-growing. Its roots will grow under sidewalks, curbs and driveways in confined spaces, eventually lifting them.
With branches spreading at least 30 feet from the trunk to create a canopy width 60 to 100 feet wide, a live oak should be planted a minimum of 30 to 50 feet from a building foundation. While this seems extreme initially, over the next several decades the spacing choice will prove sound.
After the live oak is planted, prune it annually for the first three years to develop a strong structure. Remove narrow-crotched, too low or downward-angled and damaged branches. Monitor growth for the next 30 years, pruning once every five years to maintain the tree's best structure. This training ensures that the live oak forms a high canopy base with the lowest branches at a minimum height of 14 feet. This permits safe under passage of vehicles if the tree is near roads and driveways.
If the property is too small for a live oak, consider planting the similar and closely related sand live oak (Quercus geminata). It matures 20 to 50 feet tall with 25 to 50 feet in canopy width.
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