Our provincial tree and only native oak is now quite rare and primarily found in scattered areas around Charlottetown, Tracadie and Georgetown. The largest specimen on P.E.I., a 5 ft. (1.6 m) diameter giant in Charlottetown’s Royalty Oaks, fell to the ground in 1994. Red oak leaves are deeply cut with pointed lobes. Some oaks around churches and homes look like red oak but are actually scarlet or black oaks. It can be hard to tell them apart (and they can hybridize) so if you are collecting from these areas get a leaf sample and acorns and check them with a good field guide.
Red oak is a fast-growing tree and makes good growth in almost all well- drained soils. It can grow in full sun or partial shade.
Acorns should be collected off the tree when some have already started to fall to the ground, usually mid-September to late-October. Seeds can be visually inspected and those with holes discarded. Another method is to put them in large buckets of water and keep only the ones that sink. If you use raised beds with wooden sides and can use hardware cloth to protect the acorns from squirrels, fall planting works well. Otherwise store in a stratification bed (see page 20) and spring plant as soon as the ground is workable. Place acorns every 2 in. (5 cm) in rows 6 in. (15 cm) apart, at a depth of 1 in (2.5 cm). Oaks grow long tap roots, so either plant seedlings out the second spring, or transplant them to another bed after pruning the tap root to 6 in. (15 cm). Red oak responds well to pruning. If the seedling does not have a straight, single stem, it can be pruned back almost to the ground in the spring. One or more sprouts will come up and these can be pruned to give the desired structure.
As you will no doubt experience if you plant any amount of red oak, snowshoe hare love to browse oak and red squirrels feast on the acorns. As well, blue jays, grackles, woodpeckers, ruffed grouse and many other birds and small mammals favor acorns, making red oak one of our most important wildlife trees.
Areas of Usage:
Given its status as provincial tree, its wide range of uses, quick growth and high value, red oak is at the top of our list for tree planting. It can be used in reclaiming fields, especially if there is some alder present, and also works well in diversifying existing conifer plantations. At Macphail Woods we use it in almost all of our forest plantings, except in wet conditions or under dense shade. The wood is hard and heavy and one of the most valuable that can be grown here. It is used for furniture, flooring and interior finish work. Red oak is also a premier tree for planting around homes and can be used in windbreaks along with other deciduous and coniferous trees.
Red Oak, at one time widely distributed in the hardwood areas of PEI, is now confined to small scattered areas around Charlottetown, Tracadie and Georgetown. Around here, it seldoms exceeds 60 feet in height with a diameter of 16 inches. Growing in the forest the trunk is tall and frequently clear of branches for more than 2/3 of its length. Open grown trees develop broad-rounded crowns of stout branches. It is a fast growing tree and will do well on a wide variety of soils, but it prefers a well-drained one. It is commonly found with white birch, poplars, and white pine. Trees that grow on poor sites are usually low and scrubby. The wood is not as resistant to decay as the white oak, nor is it suitable for tight cooperage. It is mainly used for flooring, interior finish and furniture.