In Praise of My Oak Trees (Or The Growth of a Habitat Gardener)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I haven’t always liked my oak trees. In fact, there was a time when I wanted to chop them all down. I live and garden on a semi-wooded acre in southwestern Connecticut that is home to 19 oak trees. Most are at least 40’ tall and while they dot my entire landscape, the majority of them seem to line the eastern and northern boundaries of my property.

For the first few years we lived here, I really didn’t even notice all the oak trees. As a first-time homeowner and a new mom, my attention was focused elsewhere. I was grateful we had lots of large trees on our property but I never really paid much attention to any of the trees. I was much more interested in the plants that grew at eye level.

But as my interest in gardening started to bud, I took notice of the oak trees. Frankly, I considered them a nuisance. Mainly because of all the acorns. During mast years, walking on the ground near the oaks trees was like navigating a floor slick with marbles. Not to mention the annoying ping, ping, ping of acorns hitting the roof. Or the hundreds and hundreds of little sprouting acorns found in every bed, border, nook and cranny of the garden. And when I found out that deer, my garden nemesis, eat acorns, I really wanted to get rid of each and every one of my oak trees.

And then something happened. As I grew and matured as a gardener, I began to realize that my garden was more than just a collection of pretty plants. It was home to a plethora of insects, birds and mammals. I could either continue gardening the way I had been, without any real regard for them, or I could start to welcome them into my garden and my garden could become a safe haven for them. A habitat gardener was born.

The hammock, tucked away under a green canopy of oak leaves, is my favorite spot in the garden.

That’s when I started to appreciate all my oak trees. Of course the discovery that we had two oaks trees that were the perfect distance apart to support a hammock only added to my growing sense of acknowledgement that perhaps I had been wrong about these trees. After reading Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy, I finally understood how fortunate I was to have all those oak trees in my garden. According to Tallamy, ‘oaks are the quintessential wildlife plants:  no other genus supports more species of Lepidoptera, thus providing more types of bird food, than the mighty oak’. Lucky me, I have no less than 19 of them growing in my very own wildlife garden!

My oak trees (I know it may not be PC to call them ‘mine’ and I imagine some readers will call me out on it but I lovingly consider them ‘mine’ because I protect and care for them) have become the symbol of my growing awareness of just how important my garden is to the larger ecosystem. The acorns are the most visible sign that I see to remind me of how critical those oak trees are to all the wildlife that my garden supports, from tiny little insects right up to the deer.

Just a few of the many oak saplings in my wildlife garden.

Now when I find acorns secreted away in the shed by the growing number of squirrels and chipmunks that make my garden their home, I simply smile and leave them alone just in case their owner comes back looking for them. I also leave many of the sprouting acorns alone so that Mother Nature can do her thing with them. And when acorns rain down on the roof during a summer storm, (OK, I still find that sound annoying), at least I know many of the animals in my garden will find a feast the next morning.

© 2011 – 2013, Debbie Roberts. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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    • says

      Laurrie, That hammock has kept me sane for many years. When the weather is warm enough I try to spend at a few minutes every day there. It’s amazing how quickly I can gain perspective on life’s issues when checking out the garden from the comfort of the hammock.
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..The Birth of a Wildlife Gardener

  1. Inez says

    Doug Tallamay’s book Bringing Nature Home has certainly been an eye opener for a lot of us.
    I have one question, what is the value to “leave the sprouting acorns”? Please tell me more. I have 1 Live Oak & 2 Water Oak trees and just planted a Shumard Oak. And plenty of acorns sprouting in my garden. I pull them up when I get around to it.
    I love ‘Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens”.

    • says

      Hi Inez, Good question. I leave the acorns to sprout, in certain areas of my garden, because I assume Mother Nature intended for there to be more oak trees in the area. The grand plan must involve a few new oak trees resulting from all those acorns! I used to pull them all out, assuming they were ‘weeds’, but now I have the attitude that if there are meant to grow and mature then I should give them a chance. Of course, I do that in a more natural area of the garden. When I find sproutig acorns in the middle of my perennials, I still pull them out. But I try to let the natural rhythms of nature take over as often as I can.
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..The Birth of a Wildlife Gardener

      • says

        The beauty of letting seedlings proliferate under mature oak trees is that the seedlings provide an additional source of foliage (i.e. “food”) for herbivorous insects like caterpillars. Unless the seedlings are getting in the way of something else trying to grow in the same spot, I usually let them grow also: I just call them a “groundcover”.

        Besides, those oaks will need to be replaced someday with something. Growing a seedling in place is the best way to get started on that.

      • Inez Dickson says

        Debbie, Thanks so much for your input. So, now the little oaks stay, as long as there is space for them.

  2. says

    Great article, Debbie! So it was the oak trees that set you on your path to creating welcoming habitat for wildlife, for me it was a persistent little Chickadee. It’s so cool to hear how others have gotten hooked. I’m so glad you decided you like your oaks because they support over 500 different species of butterflies and moths.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..It’s Our Second Blogiversary

    • says

      Thanks, Carole. Definitely learning more about oak trees and acorns helped me to look at them in a much more positive light. I’m still not wild about the fact that deer eat acorns but I guess ‘two steps forward, one step back’ is part of being a wildlife gardener.
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..Book Preview: The Living Garden


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