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White Oak - Black Oak - Northern Red Oak

| Description | Products and Uses | Site Conditions |
| Regeneration | Immediate Treatments | Pests and Diseases |


Range of northern red oak White oak, black oak, and northern red oak comprise the majority of stocking in this type, but any one of these species may dominate the type depending on site conditions (Figure 6-17). Other common associates are northern pin oak, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, pignut hickory (southern Michigan), yellow poplar (southern Michigan), sugar and red maples, white and green ash, American and red elm, and basswood. Occasionally black walnut, black cherry, American beech, and eastern hemlock may be present.

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Products and Uses

Oak is valued in the manufacture of furniture, flooring, paneling, ties, and fuelwood. White oak also is used for barrel staves. Red oak usually is the most valuable species in this type for wood products.

Oak woodlands are home to many animals, including white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, raccoon, opossum, red fox, bobcat, skunk, turkey, ruffed grouse, and many songbirds. Acorns are an important food for squirrels, deer, turkey, mice, voles, and other mammals and birds. Wildlife prefer white oak acorns, but will eat acorns from any oak species.

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Site Conditions

Oaks grow on a variety of soils with texture varying from clay to loamy sands and on some soils that have a high content of rock fragments. This high quality site is dominated by northern red oakOaks may occur on all topographic positions from valley floors to narrow ridgetops and on all aspects. Red oak is most common on moist sites. White oak occurs over a range of moist to dry sites. Black oak is most abundant on drier sites. This type tends to be succeeded on moist sites by sugar maple, basswood, white ash, elms, beech, and other moisture demanding species. On drier sites, the type is stable.

Oaks grow best on north- and east-facing, gently sloping, lower slopes; in coves and deep ravines; and on well-drained valley floors where soils are at least 36 inches deep. Medium-quality sites have moderately deep soils (20 to 36 inches) on upper and middle slopes facing north and east. Oaks survive, but grow poorly, on narrow ridgetops or south- and west-facing steep, upper slopes where soil is less than 20 inches deep. Oaks survive better than most other tree species on dry sites, but they do not produce much merchantable timber on such sites. There is fierce competition among tree species on the best sites, so oaks are difficult to regenerate there.

Site index curves for northern red oak are in Appendix B-13.

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These are mature red oaks about 120 years oldRegeneration

These recommendations focus on regenerating northern red oak, which typically is the most valuable species in this type. Oaks may live for several hundred years, but for timber production on moderate to good sites, regenerate when the:

  • Oaks are 80 to 120 years old and trees average 18 to 24 inches DBH,
  • A stand is greatly understocked.
  • Most trees are of poor quality or of undesirable species.
Oaks commonly reproduce from acorns. Red oaks produce good acorn crops at 2- to 5-year intervals beginning about age 50. The best seed producers are dominant or codominant trees with large, uncrowded crowns. Acorns drop in the fall. White oak acorns germinate soon after falling, but red oak acorns germinate the following spring. Red oaks produce good acorn crops at 2- to 5-year intervalsInsects, mammals and birds can eat or damage more than 80 percent of the acorn crop in most years and nearly all of the crop in very poor seed years. Gravity and the caching activities of squirrels and mice disperse seeds only short distances. Birds distribute acorns over longer distances, but such dispersal is not reliable for regeneration. The best germination occurs when acorns are in contact with or buried in mineral soil under a light covering of leaves.

Northern red, black, and white oaks are intermediate in shade tolerance, although white oaks are more tolerant than the other two. In stands with a dense understory or overstory, there will be few oaks in the understory.

Natural oak regeneration is most reliable where there is plenty of advance regeneration. The number of oak seedlings needed to successfully stock the next stand depends on seedling size before the harvest. The larger the seedlings, the more likely they are to survive to harvestable size.

Seedling Height
per Acre

Stands that are well-stocked with advance regeneration and that have relatively little competition from undesirable understory trees, shrubs, or other vegetation may be clearcut. This dry site has good white oak natural regenerationSuch conditions are more likely to occur on moderately dry sites. Clearcut at least one-half acre and preferably at least two acres; otherwise, shade from the surrounding timber will suppress oak seedlings. For regeneration purposes there is no maximum size for clearcuts, so long as there is good advance regeneration.

If there is a seed source present, but few oak seedlings, the problem often is too much shade. Acorns may germinate and the seedlings may survive for several years beneath heavy shade, but advance oak regeneration will not accumulate over a long period. Northern red oak reaches maximum photosynthesis at about 30 percent of full sunlight. To reduce shade produced by an understory of shade-tolerant hardwood trees, shrubs, or ferns, cut or treat vegetation with herbicide, depending on the species to be controlled. If dense shade is produced by a high canopy, also conduct a shelterwood harvest, leaving 75 to 85 percent crown cover in species and individual trees that you want to have provide seed for the next generation. Harvest carefully to avoid damaging the remaining timber.

Following a shelterwood harvest and understory removal, wait several years to be sure that a satisfactory number of oak seedlings are present, then clearcut. If the oaks take more than five years to regenerate, apply additional understory control as needed. To protect advance reproduction and encourage stump sprouting, clearcut when the ground is frozen. If you need to harvest in other seasons, restrict log skidding to narrow corridors to reduce the soil disturbance that favors germination of undesirable species.

An alternative to the shelterwood harvest is to wait until there is a good acorn crop, then clearcut and disturb the soil after the acorns drop but before the ground freezes. Soil disturbance helps to bury the acorns and uproot competing vegetation.

Because of the risk and possible delay involved when relying on natural regeneration, you may want to plant seedlings after a shelterwood or clearcut. Planting also enables you to supplement natural regeneration, The oak seedling at the bottom has a stem at least 3/8 inch in diameter and a fibrous root system that help insure survivalto use genetically superior stock when it is available, and to choose the species. Control undesirable trees and shrubs by cutting, bulldozing, or treating with herbicide in the fall. Harvest by shelterwood or clearcut, then plant oak seedlings the next spring. On forest sites, plant oaks 20 to 25 feet apart, allowing other trees to provide the necessary stand density. In open fields, plant trees 5 to 8 feet apart within rows and 10 to 12 feet apart between rows.

The best oak seedlings have a fibrous root system and a stem at least 3/8-inch in diameter. If large seedlings are difficult to handle during the plant-operation, just before planting clip the tops of the seedlings–and the roots, if necessary–leaving each about 8 inches long. Plant 200 to 800 seedlings an acre, depending on their size and the amount of advance reproduction already in the stand. Control weeds around the oak seedlings for up to three years. Herbicides are often effective and economical for weed control.

Oaks also reproduce from stump sprouts following a harvest. Sprouting frequency declines as tree diameter and age increase. Northern red oaks sprout more frequently than white and black oaks. New sprouts grow rapidly and are usually straight and well formed, especially if they arise close to ground level.

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Intermediate Treatments

This stand is about ready for its first crop tree releaseControl undesirable tree species that compete with crop trees when the stand height averages at least 25 feet (when the trees are 10 to 20 years old). When growing trees for timber production, thin stump sprouts when they are about 10 years old (but no more than 3 inches in diameter). Leave one or two dominant sprouts that have good form and arise within 6 inches of the ground. When managing oaks for timber, keep stands fairly dense until the bottom 20 to 25 feet of the stems are essentially free of live branches. This generally will occur when trees are 40 to 50 feet tall (30 to 45 years). At this stage, thin stands to stimulate the stem diameter growth of crop trees. Release no more than 100 crop trees an acre. Select crop trees that are 20 to 25 feet apart. Provide at least 5 feet of clear space around three sides of the crop tree crowns. As an alternative, follow the stocking charts for upland central hardwoods in Appendix C-7. Repeat thinning every 15 to 20 years, but stop thinning when stands reach about 60 years. Pruning will improve wood quality and may be needed if the stand density is not high enough to cause natural pruning.

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Pests and Diseases

The most destructive defoliating insect attacking oaks is the invasive gypsy moth. It repeatedly defoliates trees and has killed oaks throughout the northeastern United States. Gypsy moth is an invasive exotic insect that defoliates oaks and can cause widespread damageIt is present in Michigan and Wisconsin and is moving westward. Northern red oak can recover from a single defoliation but may be weakened enough for some disease or other insects to kill them. Several other defoliators occasionally cause serious damage or weaken trees.

To reduce damage from defoliators, maintain stand vigor, consider spraying high value stands with an insecticide if repeated defoliations occur, and manage stands for species diversity.

Minimize chestnut borer damage by maintaining vigorous stands. Specifically, in upland stands with site indexes of less than 65 (see Appendix B-13), maintain basal areas at less than 120 square feet an acre in stands with trees averaging 7 to 15 inches DBH, and at less than 100 square feet an acre in stands averaging more than 15 inches DBH. Avoid thinning for five years after a serious drought or defoliation.

Oak wilt is the most serious disease that affects oak trees. To minimize infections, do not thin or prune oaks from mid-April through mid-July, when fungal spores are present and can be transported by picnic beetles to fresh wounds. Dormant season operations are best because spores are not present and the trees are not susceptible to infection. Since oak wilt commonly spreads through root grafts between neighboring oaks, surround valuable oak stands in areas with a high oak wilt hazard with a 100-foot buffer of an alternate species. If trees become infected, harvest them before the following spring. Use a trenching machine or vibratory plow to break the root grafts through which the disease spreads. Trench placement and depth are critical. Consult a forester for advice before trenching. Left untreated, oak wilt will spread through the stand until it kills all the red oaks. White and bur oaks are not commonly affected by oak wilt.

Minimize damage from shoestring root rot by maintaining vigorous, well-stocked stands.

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