Swamp White Oak


Hello everyone!

We were gifted two Swamp White Oak saplings from a nursery two days ago. I am not sure of their age but I can tell you that, for each of them, the acorn they sprouted from still sits on the soil next to them, they are in what I assume is a coconut husk temporary planter(nursery said it decomposes and can be planted with the sapling), and they measure 10-13cm tall. I think they are very young (each has about 10 leaves so far).

I have read that Swamp white oak is relatively uncommon and I am determined to grow these little trees until they are on track to reaching their full potential.

We live in Mount Albert, Ontario and we have about two acres of land. I am considering a plot where I think they will be happiest. It is full sun, with soil that floods in the spring and stays damp to wet throughout summer and autumn as well. The plot has dark brown soil and is pretty squishy, almost like mud but full of bits like soil is (sorry..I hope that helps??) also, there are many weeds and tall grasses in this area.
I will have read that it is necessary to clear all the surrounding weeds (at least 2 feet around) and to plant the oak with mulch surrounding but not touching its trunk. In all, the plot is about 10 meters by 10 meters large.

I’ve come to the experts to know the following:

->Should I plant these two saplings asap or should I wait for a better time?
-> Is the land chosen appropriate for the species?
->Will saplings so small survive the Canadian winter? And with virtually no shelter from other trees?(they would be in a flat plot of land with other trees only on the outskirts about 10 meters away)
->Any and all tips you can give this VERY amateur gardener to keep these precious trees happy?
->Should the trees be surrounded by rabbit proof fencing? Will anything try to eat them?
->Any specific nutrients, additives they should be given?
-> Is it true I should rinse the roots and remove any “root knots”?

Again, any and all tips would be extremely appreciated!! Please spare no detail.
I want to do this right and leave something beautiful for the next generation.
Thank you so much!!


Congratulations on acquiring two swamp white oaks, and thank you for taking the time and care to nurture these native oaks!

Swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor, is commonly found in climax northern floodplain, maple-basswood, oak-hickory, elm-ash, beech-maple, mixed mesophytic, and northern hardwood forest communities, although rarely as a dominant species. Its acorn, which is sweet, is an important food source for squirrels, mice, white-tailed deer, beaver, black bear, and a variety of birds, including ducks and turkey.

Quercus bicolor grows best in full sun in moist to wet, deep, acidic soils; thus the site you have chosen sounds quite appropriate. I would like to point out, however, that in their natural habitat, most trees would prefer to be supported by their larger forest community, rather than fending for themselves alone in the middle of a field. While there are trees that are ‘pioneers’ and will boldly venture forth to colonize new territories (e.g. sumac, birch), most tree saplings began life under the canopy of the mother tree and mature slowly. In this sheltered setting, saplings benefit from the underground network of tree roots for nutrients and the surrounding mature trees and shrubs for climatic protection. While it is not necessary to replicate this for the planting of your oak saplings, it would be better not to place them in the middle of a clearing, isolated from surrounding vegetation. If you have mature trees and shrubs on your land, it would be great to site your saplings closer to them (this of course does not apply to weeds, which must be cleared away otherwise they can smother the saplings, as you well know). And, if you are curious about trees in their natural habitat, you may want to check out this fascinating and informative book by Peter Wohlleben called The Hidden Life of Trees.

The swamp white oak has a two-layer root system to help them withstand both seasonal flooding (standing water suffocates tree roots) and summer draught: a top layer of finer roots closer to the surface, and a deep tap root. This tap roots makes transplanting the trees difficult, so you should plant your saplings sooner rather than later, and before their tap roots develop too much. Most oak trees spend the first 7 years of their lives focusing on developing their tap root, before bulking up above ground. Therefore, don’t be surprised if for the first few years of after you planted your saplings, you find that they are growing relatively slowly. As long as they look healthy and are growing, they are doing fine.

Given that we are in the middle of a heat wave right now, you would be wise to wait for a few days for the weather to cool down. Choose a cloudy day, ideally right before rain is forecast. Plant the saplings at the same level in the ground as they are in the pot, and not too deep. You mentioned root knots–yes, do remove the sapling from the pot to check the root system, and loosen any tangled/girdling roots (although these are unlikely for oaks at this early stage of development, it never hurts to check). No need to add any amendments or fertilizers; just use the existing soil to backfill the planting hole, water thoroughly, then mulch. Rabbit-proof fencing is a great idea, since tree saplings are frequently browsed by herbivores like rabbit and deer. Deep, reliable snow coverage is your best insurance against winter-kill (fluffy snow is a great insulator). If your site is very exposed, then protecting the branches above the snow line with mulch, or erecting some kind of wind-shield, in the first few years may be a good idea.

Quercus bicolor is tough and undemanding, so you should have very little to worry about. Just check in with them once in a while to make sure they are receiving enough moisture (especially in the first year), and watch out for yellowing leaves during the growing season, which, for swamp white oak at least, is indicative of iron chlorosis. When the soil is not acidic enough, the tree cannot take up enough iron for healthy growth. If that is the case, then you will need to acidify the soil somehow–here is an article from Utah State University Forestry Extension on preventing and treating iron chlorosis to get you started if you run into that problem.

We wish you the best of luck and many years of pleasure with your swamp white oak trees.