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Regenerating Oaks in Missouri's Bottomlands

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Pin oak, Shumard oak and cherrybark oak can survive frequent flooding, but they don't thrive in these conditions. Despite its name, swamp chestnut oak won't grow well in swampy or wet ground.

Bottomland oaks are better able to survive and prosper when flooding occurs during their dormant season. They also fare better on well-drained soils on higher elevations in floodplains. Floods in the late spring, when trees have leafed out, can kill oak seedlings. This is especially true when flood waters are stagnant and flooding persists for a month or more.

Give oaks a chance!

Landowners can improve the success of oak regeneration in bottomlands. Using cover crops, such as redtop grass, sown at the time of oak planting, helps control competing vegetation. Redtop, a cool-season grass adapted to moist soil conditions, only reaches heights of 18-24 inches. Its sod, however, thwarts the growth of other plants that would otherwise shade out oaks.

Landowners can limit animal damage to oak seedlings by managing vegetation canopy so that it is low to the ground during winter. The goal is to reduce the cover that protects rabbits from predators. This can be achieved with low-growing grasses, such as redtop, or by mowing natural vegetation around oak seedlings in the fall. Although trees planted near field edges will be vulnerable to rabbits, those in the interior portion of large fields are less likely to be damaged.

Young oak trees in open fields still may be targeted by deer. Growing oak seedlings with a little cover may reduce their exposure to browsing. You can protect them further with wire mesh seedling cages or by wrapping their stems with spiral plastic strips.

You can limit an oak's exposure to damage or competition by planting large, vigorous seedlings and providing them with optimal nutrition for rapid growth. Deer usually won't browse the terminal shoots of trees that are taller than 5 feet. Larger diameter trees also have thicker bark, which makes it harder for rabbits and other rodents to girdle or damage their cambium. In addition, vigorous seedlings have the best chance of recovering from injuries.

The taller the seedling, the more likely its crown will remain above growing season floodwaters. Planting trees on natural or man-made mounds and ridges increases the seedling relative height, decreasing their susceptibility to flooding. You can construct raised beds or soil mounds with a rice plow or other implements. These

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