Southerners have long had a love affair with the live oak, and rightly so. But if you’re going to plant one, you need to do it right, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings.

“If you intend to plant a live oak, select a tree with a well-developed central leader system and be sure the tree was properly pruned at the nursery,” he says.

Most homeowners should select trees growing in 3- to 15-gallon containers, although you can purchase live oaks that are much larger. Live oaks originating from seed sources in Louisiana will grow best in Louisiana.

“What better reason to buy local?” Owings says.

Live oaks planted in front yards have basically no room, he says, and between streets and sidewalks is also the wrong tree in the wrong place.

“Be sure to plant live oaks where they have room to grow and do what they want to do,” Owings advises.

Most of the time, live oaks are planted on 30-by-30-foot spacing, which is way too close.

A 60-by-60-foot spacing is OK, he says, but ideally live oaks need to be planted on 90-foot centers.

Noted for its strength and longevity, this stately tree was one of the major tree species that survived the wind and flooding of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s also one of the few tree species that have their own society of which all members, except for one human custodian, are live oak trees themselves. The Live Oak Society, under the auspices of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, is a registry of over 7,500 notable live oak trees found throughout the South.

To become a member, a live oak must have a girth, or “waistline,” of 8 feet or greater. Trees with girths over 16 feet are classified as centenarian. The LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station has eight trees registered as members of the Live Oak Society.

The two most notable named trees at the station flank the entrance. They’re named for Boleslaus “Bill” Szymoniak, first superintendent of the station, and his wife, Edna.

The LSU campus also has its share of majestic of live oaks.

“Live oaks are one of our most important trees,” Owings says. “Provide proper care to these great trees, and you will enjoy for multiple generations.”

Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.