Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Oaks

Yesterday was a final goodbye to summer -- a warm, still, sunny day full of bright fall colors and sweet air. Today we are back to November, with temperatures in the 40s and part sun, part clouds, and gray skies.

One thing that concerns me is the swamp white oak in the meadow. It is Quercus bicolor, and has been looking fantastic since I planted it in spring, 2009. I got this nice specimen from Bosco's, spending way more on this tree than any of the Lowe's and Home Depot specials I put in the meadow.

Here it was in mid May this year, and all summer it caught the afternoon light in the meadow, looking fine. The leaves are glossy and large, with the characteristic whitish undersides. This year was the first I noticed acorns.


In past years it has developed some fall color, not very intense, but some orangish russety colors. It does hang on to its leaves through winter as oaks do.

But this year its leaves suddenly turned completely brown and crispy when we got a frost last week. Annuals and tender hydrangeas got zapped by the frost, but it was not that severe. But the oak went from green to dry brown all over, overnight.

A nearby sweetgum also got hit hard. One of two, it was the sweetgum that had been decapitated in 2011's snow storm, and had been regrowing its top canopy again. The new growth got totally blackened by the frost, quite badly, and only the tender top part. The rest of the tree, and the second nearby sweetgum were untouched.

And this oak seems to have been vulnerable. For whatever reason it thoroughly succumbed to the frost.

I also noticed that the bark is peeling away all up and down the trunk. Research says that swamp white oak gets platy, scaly bark, but this seems extreme. It is coming off in strips. Is it ok?

Concern for this oak led me to take a tour of the meadow and check the other oaks there. Several are volunteers that are popping up and some are large now, and looking great. Mostly pin oaks I think.

Then there are the couple pin oaks I planted, also putting on size and looking great, showing nice fall color. The volunteer one I transplanted ripped up from the back hill and put behind the bottlebrush buckeye hedge is topping the weeds now.

The oaks are all very hard to photograph, with nothing but dried weeds surrounding them and no background or structure for reference. Pictures don't capture any of them well.
The transplanted volunteer pin oak behind the bottlebrush buckeyes, looking back toward the yard
A wild seedling, looking like another swamp white oak maybe?
The pin oak I got as a small 5 gallon container tree from Lowe's, planted by the road cut in 2007

I am worried about the extreme reaction the swamp white oak had to the frost. It doesn't seem normal. And the peeling bark looks odd, although it doesn't seem diseased or injured. I'll need to keep an eye on this tree next spring.

Meanwhile, winter beckons.

Today it is 18 years since I had to tell my young sons that their father had died. Eighteen years ago today . . . I am amazed.