Crape Myrtle vs. Oak: Are Oaks That Slow?

 Are California native oak trees, Quercus agrifolia, that slow to grow?  Lagerstroemia 'Dynamite' in late August 2015;  just two branch tips of the oak tree are visible on the extreme left in the photo.  

Yesterday, from about the same point of view, about half of 'Dynamite' is hidden behind the oak:  
'Dynamite' has grown moderately.  In contrast, the oak is the one with explosive growth.  Note that 'Dynamite' is a smaller variety of Crape Myrtle and therefore a season's growth is modest.  Yet the growth of the oak is still a surprise. 
Late August 2015:
This angle shows the oak was not only smaller in 2015, but also less substantial:
See through oak tree in 2015.  The 'Yellow Bird' Leucadendron was also much smaller. 
Late August 2015.  Note the tall Eucalyptus behind the neighbor's house on the far right.  It fell over a year or two ago and was removed.
 Early August 2018. 
There will soon be many more open flowers on the 'Dynamite's:
Huh.  How 'bout that?  

I've not trimmed or limbed-up the oak in any way.  All the ones you see for sale are lolly-popped.  I'm letting this one grow and gain as much strength as possible.  One thing I recently read about Q. agrifolia is what an insect magnet they are.  Nearly every insect in California finds some part of an oak delicious.  This sounds bad.

On the other hand, every bird in California is drawn to the oaks because there are all sorts of delicious insects to eat.  When I am out front there are always multiple birds foraging in the oak.  Not bad after all!

One more then-and-now: looking towards the back of the property.  The old neighbors in the back had a bunch of weed trees and one beautiful native oak in August of 2015:
 Yesterday.  Some of the trees are gone, including all the weed palms.    Unfortunately, the new neighbors hard-pruned their oak tree, but so far it has not died.  It is advised to remove no more than 25% of an oak canopy; that one lost about 75%.  

Their house is more visible, but the fire danger is much reduced.  The area is more open, making our property seem more spacious--for a while.  The new neighbors planted five olive trees and two avocado trees, all three feet apart, back there.  At least the new trees are back from the property line somewhat, and once the neighbors  received some $1,000 water bills, the water will get cut back and the trees will grow minimally.   Such is my hope.  The new trees will also be competing with a Godzilla-sized, long established Bougainvillea.  I could hear the neighbors surprised at the Bougie growing back after it was cut to the ground and sprayed with weed killer.  Hah!  As if that would affect it.  

I planted a pair of Callistemon 'Slim' to screen out the house, and one is already taller than the wall.  We also had a new, non-flammable gate installed, too:
Smoke from a nearby fire.  It's not burning in our direction, but it's a reminder that trees need to be carefully managed in our neighborhood. 
It's fun to compare then and now.  What have your compared lately? 


  1. That is impressive growth. Like a lot of other plants, oaks have a sleep-creep-leap progression, but their "leap" is so dramatic because of their large scale. When I read Doug Tallamy saying that 500 different caterpillars eat oak leaves, I had the same response as you, but here again, the scale is part of what makes chewed leaves visually insignificant (birds being the bigger reason).

    Thinking about your neighbors' aggressive oak pruning and their surprise at the Bougainvillea comeback reminds me of one of my many 'If I were empress...' fantasy edicts: Mandatory education about soil and root systems, starting early in elementary school and continuing through high school, involving a lot of hands-on and outdoor components...

    1. Most Americans seem to neither know nor care zero about plants beyond wanting a bit of green on their plate, to make the steak look nice. Sigh.

      I continue amazed at what a bird magnet the oak is, now that it has grown large enough. A bird or two or three during the day on every other tree nearby, but not a constant flock, as the oak has.

  2. We've always been told how slow oaks are to grow. Maybe they just like your climate.

    1. The leaves are really hard, like plastic. It makes the most of every drop of water it gets, because it doesn't get a lot.

      I read they slow down once they hit about 15'-20'. That would be good. Don't need a monster tree.

  3. That's impressive! Prompted by another blogger's post, I recently went hunting for some old MLS photos of our property as I have almost no "before" photos of my garden. Amazingly, I found a series of photos, which I think date back to late 2008 or 2009 when the property went on the market and was subsequently sold to the guy we bought from. (He held on to the property for just over a year.) There were 10 exterior shots, many showing what appeared to be newly laid lawn. It makes for a quite a comparison with my current lawn-less garden!

    1. Oh, cool! Next time you do a wideshot post, the MLS photos would be a great contrast.

  4. I often find oak seedlings in my garden however it is a very unsuitable place for such a large tree. The seedlings always seem to be in inconvenient locations i.e 3 inches from the fence, a foot from the house , directly underneath the Crape Myrtle. All of them I assume are gifts from the squirrels.

    1. I find them all over here, too. The oak in the post was one I selected and moved just as it sprouted. So far, so good. Wish I could plant them all, but that's impossible. Perhaps the local park where all the Eucalyptus and Coast Redwoods are dead or dying, will start to sprout could happen.

  5. The birds planted an oak in our garden. I have let it grow because the Ash tree right near it will probably be destroyed by Ash Borers. I love oaks of any sort. They are magnificent. I bet your neighbors tree lives.
    Your garden pictures now are beautiful.

    1. I've read about those Ash Borers, and the destruction they are causing. Our oaks here are threatened by the Polyphagus Shothole Borer, the conifers by drought and bark beetles, the citrus by Citrus Greening. Our precious trees. :^(

      Happy you liked the photos!

  6. That is some impressive growth! I planted a few Quercus agrifolia, along with Quercus chrysolepis and Notholithocarpus densiflorus, along our western property line for eventual screening. Not much growth this year, as I only planted them this past January and haven't been able to water them much this summer. Looking forward to the day they start shooting up and block off the view of the neighbor's hideous property. I have various other oaks, both evergreen and a few deciduous, but by far the fastest growing are the cork oaks. Only their second year in the ground and they've put on 2-3 feet of growth.

    1. I love Q. suber and thought carefully about planting that instead of a Q. agrifolia, but couldn't find a Q. suber easily, and there are Q. agrifolia all over the neighborhood, so I went with a sprouted acorn. Planted in 2011 it grew a few inches a year through 2015, then in 16 & 17 it exploded with growth!

      Hindsight being 20/20 I would now go with a Q. ilex because in the long run, the root system is somewhat better behaved then Q. agrifolia, though I don't think the one in the post will be a problem in my lifetime, but I like to take the long-term view.

      We went on a garden tour to a nearby neighborhood and the builder/developer had used believe it or not Q. ilex as the street and front lawn tree in the neighborhood, instead of the cheap, trashy, water sucking trees builders usually use. Entire neighborhood looks fabulous because of those trees.

      Your line of screening oaks will be magnificent one day. Wish I had room for that!

  7. I'm impressed, though for decades I've been using native and adapted xeric oaks for decent speed but major toughness and longevity. A nice balance. Definitely not slow except at first.

    My arborist sources say to remove no more than 25% of a canopy a year, and definitely in hot weather. I find one only needs to remove that much if the tree has never been pruned or cared for in any way...take care of crossing branches and dead, and that's all a tree needs.

    Very cool your hood originally used Q. ilex..."weed palms" must mean W*#... Those might be best pruned more heavily to ground level where overused :-)

    1. Not my 'hood, but one nearby. My 'hood sticks to trash trees... W*s, Schinus, Eucs. Free reseeders.

      I've never trimmed anything off the oak, and am wondering if it needs to have some shaping. I found a UC document on pruning native oaks, and and studying it. Apical dominance vs. apical control and the like. Then I will hire a certified arborist for a consult. Have been enjoying your recent posts David, but comments don't seem to work.


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