How to plant red oak trees
How to Grow and Care for a Red Oak Tree
Les Engles achieved Master Gardener through the Camden County Extension of the Rutgers Master Gardeners Program. He is an arboretum curator with over 30 years of experience. He describes himself as a "tree-hugging dirt worshipper" who is a member of multiple gardening societies and foundations.
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Updated on 03/27/22
Reviewed by Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a certified arborist and member of the International Society of Arborists specializing in tree heal care. He founded and runs Urban Loggers, LLC, a company offering residential tree services in the Midwest and Connecticut.
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The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
In This Article
Growing from an Acorn
Red Oaks (Quercus rubra) are stately trees with some of the most fantastic shade and fall foliage you will ever see. These magnificent trees, native to the east coast of North America, grow to be large trees averaging 75 feet tall and living anywhere from 150 to 500 years old.
Unless you have a huge yard that can accommodate a red oak, this tree should be left to landscapes that can accommodate the immense area needed to grow this tree. You may also want to consider future construction and site improvements when selecting a red oak. The species is going to outlive you and possibly your descendants. The question to ask yourself is, is this species the right tree? And will it be planted in the right place?
Red oaks are great trees to plant if you live in the Northeast of the United States. Besides being aesthetically pleasing and a superb shade tree, the red oak is invaluable ecologically. Juvenal's duskywing, banded hairstreak, Clymene moth, imperial moth, and the rosy maple moth are just a few of the dozens of pollinators that the red oak hosts.
|Common Name||Red Oak|
|Botanical Name||Quercus rubra|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||50-75 ft. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Fertile, Sandy, Dry, Well Draining|
|Hardiness Zone||4-8, USDA|
|Native Range||Eastern North America|
Red Oak Care
If you plan to plant a red oak, it won't require much care once it becomes established other than some light preventative maintenance and keeping an eye out for the rare insect or disease. All told, it is a carefree tree as long as it stays healthy and is given a good start.
The healthy part is a little luck, a little maintenance; the good start is all you, but we can help you get you in the right direction. Whether you decide to buy a sapling (which is the easy route) or propagate your own red oak, you should plan to give it plenty of room wherever you decide to plant it. That requires the typical planning, so think ahead about both the height and width of your mature tree.
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
You will want to place your red oak in a place that will receive plenty of sunlight. Oaks need full sun to part sun to thrive, and giving anything less will cause some issues. Even if you plant near another tree, it will like some room to allow its canopy to get some sunlight.
Though not incredibly picky about its soil, if you want your oak at its happiest, you will want to give it sandy, well-draining soil that is somewhat rich and on the acidic side. Testing your soil's pH might be a good idea before planting if you need to adjust the pH a bit.
Never layer more than an inch of soil over its roots. All roots need room, but this is especially important for oaks.
While your oak establishes its roots and matures for the first few years, you should water it weekly. It will take a good amount of water, especially during dry periods; 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter is a good standard to follow. Once your oak is established, Don't worry about watering it any further mother nature should take care of it just fine.
Temperature and Humidity
Red oaks are very frost-resistant and handle the cold, wet winters and hot, humid summers of the Northeast and Mid Atlantic. As the climate changes and warms, their zones are shifting northward. They are presently listed as USDA Zone 4-8.
Your oak should not need any supplemental fertilizer. In the rare case that your oak seems to be lagging, you should test the soil and see to check test for soil deficiencies. To correct any nutrient deficiencies found, fertilize with the appropriate NPK formulation to compensate for the deficient nutrient with a slow-release fertilizer at the tree's dripline.
Growing a Red Oak From an Acorn
This method can be used for any tree in the genus Quercus, but be warned the genus is slow to germinate.
When you're ready to select your acorn, be sure only to collect the second batch of acorns that drop that season. Some years the acorns will be plentiful; this is called a mast year. Unfortunately, you may not get many at all in other years, and you may need to hunt for them. It would help if you collected enough to have extra in case some of the acorns don't germinate.
Next, gently remove the caps of the acorns; these are actually protective covers of the seed material. Unless you tear into the seed, you will not be damaging the seed by removing the cap. Once all the caps are removed you will want to perform a float test. Place your acorns in a large container of water and set them aside for five minutes or so. If any acorns are floating, these are not viable seed material.
The next step is important, and it is a process called stratification. You want to thoroughly dry your acorns and place them in a plastic bag filled with damp vermiculite, perlite, peat, or sawdust, and seal the bag. Place the sealed bag in your refrigerator for 45 to 60 days, and you will want to look for germination after 45 days or so.
What Is Stratification?
Stratification involves simulating natural conditions that the seeds must experience before germination can occur such as a period of cold or warm weather.
Your seedling is now ready to be transplanted into a small pot filled with good quality potting soil and allowed to grow until it is 12 to 18 inches tall. At that point, it is ready to be transplanted to its place in your yard.
How to Grow Red Oak? — Everything You Need to Know
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If you’ve ever driven down a quaint, quiet road and noticed that it is lined on both sides with this “street” tree that has majestic branches that form a picturesque crown, then you’ve no doubt encountered this variety.
These trees are found from Nova Scotia to Minnesota. Besides that East to West boundary, you’ll find that they extend all the way south to Louisiana.
Its familiar leaves also play a role in commemorating people in the military service. The leaf clusters, along with their acorns, adorn service ribbons to denote that someone has received that award multiple times.
If that’s not enough, I assure you that if you’ve ever walked on an old wood floor, you are familiar with this tree. Its sturdy wood has been used for flooring and furniture for centuries.
As you can see, the red oak tree is present in our lives in so many ways. They are a stately and elegant addition to your property that can be around for generations. And if you’re thinking of lining your street with oaks or just want something for the kids and squirrels to climb on, you must read this article so you know the essential information to planting and growing them the right way.
What You’ll Learn
The northern red oak, Quercus rubra, is a tree native to North America that is one of several oak species growing throughout the continent. It is generally referred to as red oak, but it carries the northern specification to distinguish it from the southern red oak or Spanish oak.
In forests, this deciduous tree grows to be between 90 and 150 feet tall with a trunk that measures between 1 ½ and 3 ½ feet in diameter. However, when grown in open areas, the tree will not grow nearly as tall (60 to 75 feet) but will produce a much broader trunk that can reach 7 feet in diameter.
It is fast-growing (2 feet per year) and has strong, thick branches that grow outward from the base at square angles. The smaller branches growing towards the higher points of the base raise upward to form a narrow, rounded crown with a breadth of around 45 feet in forest settings. The crown of specimens grown in the open can be as broad as 75 feet.
The northern red oak has an easily recognizable and very distinctive bark. While its color can vary from a dark reddish-brown to gray depending on the age of the tree, its rounded ridges with shiny stripes running down the center remain consistent. The ridges are scale-like and occur in great numbers throughout the entire base of the tree.
Its alternately growing leaves appear in spring when the length of the day extends to 13 hours. The leaves’ appearance is entirely dependent on this photoperiod and will leaf-out regardless of the temperature. The leaves grow to lengths between 5 and 10 inches with breadths of 4 to 6 inches and taper gradually towards the tip from broader bases. The simple leaves have 7 to 11 lobes, each with a bristle at the tip. The leaves are a dark green hue on the upper surface and slightly paler on the lower in the summer months. They turn from a deep, lustrous red or yellow into a brighter red or yellow as it gets deeper into fall.
The male and female flowers appear separately on the tree. Female flowers are tiny spikes that are located in the axils of new leaves. Male flowers are hanging catkins that appear in early spring.
The familiar barrel-shaped acorns are ¾ to 1 inch long and are a moderate shade of brown. Mature acorns take 2 years to drop to the ground. The thin cap does not completely cover the top of the acorn and has a scaly appearance.
Its winter buds are reddish-brown and are generally around ¼ of an inch long.
The wood of the red oak is a pale reddish-brown with a distinct and desirable grain. Its shock resistance makes it an ideal choice for use as railroad ties. Although the wood tends to crack during drying, treated lumber is a popular choice among carpenters for nearly any indoor construction project.
Here are the things that you’ll need to provide your red oak with to ensure it grows happy and healthy for the next 400 years.
The red oak grows best in full sun conditions. Although it prefers 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, it can also grow in partial sun and partial shade. It does not do well in hot temperatures, so the location where it is planted should have a temperate climate.
Newly planted trees will require weekly watering until the roots are established. Water deeply and ensure that the moisture soaks the soil to a depth of 2 feet. During hotter periods, red oaks benefit from additional watering to maintain the integrity of their young roots.
Established oaks are relatively tolerant of drought. They won’t need irrigation unless extended periods of drought and higher temperatures occur.
The red oak prefers acidic soil. Slightly alkaline soil, 7.5 or higher, can lead to an iron deficiency that will cause chlorosis. This results in the yellowing of the leaves. The tree does best in soils with a pH level between 5.0 and 6.0. However, they tolerate acidity well enough that they will still exhibit good growth with a pH level as low as 4.0. They also do well in neutral soil.
The trees can grow in a wide variety of soil consistencies provided that the soil is well-drained. The fertile soil should be deep enough to contain the large root system and remain moist but not soggy.
Like other oak species, the red oak is hardy enough that it rarely need supplemental fertilization to sustain healthy and continuous growth. This is especially true for specimens planted in a lawn that is already being fertilized.
If you find it necessary to fertilize your tree, do so in the early spring before the initial phases of the growing season begin. Use a fertilizer with an NPK ratio of either 12-4-8 or 12-6-6. The higher nitrogen level is because, generally, that is the nutrient most commonly deficient in trees. Apply approximately 2 pounds of fertilizer per 1000 square feet.
Also, if you do fertilize your tree, don’t do it in the first year of growth as it can be harmful to the developing tree.
An environmentally friendly alternative to fertilization is to place 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around the base of the tree. Not only will the organic material decompose and provide nutrients naturally to the soil, but it will also help the soil retain its moisture. You’ll need to check on the mulch regularly and replenish it when necessary.
Only prune your tree in the winter months. This will ensure that your tree does not contract oak wilt. Oak wilt occurs when bugs feed on the sap of limbs that have just been pruned. The bug carries spores from an infected tree to the sap of the tree you just trimmed. Oak wilt, in some cases, can cause death.
For trees under three years old, only trim back dead or damaged limbs. This will prevent damage to young, healthy limbs that are still developing.
For trees that are older than 3, only remove branches that are growing towards the center of the tree if you’re pruning to shape. Be mindful of branches that are rubbing against one another or that are too close for comfort. This contact can open up wounds and make the tree vulnerable to disease.
Always trim back any dead, diseased, or damaged branches until you reach living tree tissue. Take the time to bandage the tree at the point you pruned it for an added layer of protection.
Keep the information that follows here in mind to ensure that your red oak grows healthy and strong so that it’s around for the generations that follow to enjoy.
Try To Recreate the Tree’s Preferred Environment
The northern red oak is found in various climates and growing conditions, but they grow best in coves and ravines because the soil stays moist. These low-lying areas have sloping floors and deep, well-drained soil with loamy and sandy consistencies. Although it might not be practical for your property, it’s worth mentioning that these trees prefer north, northeast, or east-facing exposure.
If possible, recreate this environment by amending clay soil with sand, so it’s not as dense, or by using mulch to help the soil stay moist. Those are a couple of ideas out of many that will benefit your tree. Any way you can reproduce these preferred growing conditions, even in a small way, can be helpful.
Choose the Right Location
Oaks grow to be very large above and below the surface. It’s important to give it enough room to grow to its full potential unhindered. Take notice of your home, power lines, other outdoor structures, and account for underground utility lines as well.
Branches can fall onto these structures and cause significant damage and possible injury. Roots can damage anything they grow into below the surface as well. So choose the spot carefully.
If you’re planting multiple trees, ensure that they have at least 25 feet between them to allow for unencumbered growth.
Prepare the Soil Before Planting
The red oak and the other members of the Quercus genus have developed a symbiotic relationship with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. These microbes live among the roots and provide them with moisture and assorted minerals. In return, the roots provide a food source for the mycorrhizal fungi in the sugars that they naturally excrete into the soil.
This relationship is essential to the life and longevity of the oak. You can ensure that the symbiosis continues by amending the soil at the planting site with compost or manure. The microbial activity in these two mediums is very high and will set your oak up for continued success.
This is recommended no matter where you decide to plant your oak, but it is especially important in a city or other urban environment. The soil in urban areas has a higher likelihood of being deficient in these essential fungi.
Oaks are best grown from saplings with root balls as opposed to acorns. But, if you have the time and the patience, acorns are just as viable and the way nature intended.
For saplings, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and just deep enough to contain it. You’ve already amended the soil with the compost or manure to support microbial activity, so place the root ball into the hole and ensure that the sapling is standing up straight. Backfill the hole carefully and ensure that it remains perpendicular to the ground. An error here will cause your oak to grow in at an unsightly angle.
Once you’ve backfilled the hole, water the area immediately to saturate the soil containing the root ball. Water weekly to ensure that the soil stays moist and the roots establish themselves.
For acorns, it’s best to start them in a pot so that wildlife doesn’t destroy them. Be careful not to let the roots become too established in the pot. This will make transplanting it to the ground difficult for you and dangerous for the oak.
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Red oak - planting and care
The genus oak has about 600 species. In North America, rich in deciduous forests, there are many varieties of oaks, which, due to their unique decorative properties and unpretentiousness, are widely used in landscaping. One of them is red oak. An adult tree of this species reaches 25 meters in height. The tree is slender, with a dense tent-shaped crown. The trunk is covered with thin, smooth, gray bark; in old trees, the bark cracks. This species is considered very ornamental, as the foliage turns orange and bright red in autumn.
Red oak loves light, especially crown top lighting, but tolerates lateral shading. Also, the positive properties of this plant are frost resistance, resistance to gases and smoke. This tree perfectly muffles city noise, and is also not very picky about soil fertility. Withstands even an acidic reaction, but does not tolerate calcareous and moist soils. Resistant to pests and diseases. It has high phytoncidal properties.
Many owners of land plots are not averse to planting this plant in their homes in order to later enjoy its majestic beauty. Red oak loves dry and bright places with acidic soil (pH 5.5-7.5), so there is no need to pour ashes into the planting hole. It can not be planted where the soil is flooded in the spring, as well as where there is constant stagnation of water. Therefore, when landing at the bottom of the pit, it is imperative to pour drainage. And so that in a few years, when the earth in the planting pit settles, the root neck does not end up in a recess, you need to plant an oak tree so that the root neck of the seedling is on a small mound. Over time, the mound will settle, and the root collar will be flush with the soil level.
Planting is best done in early spring, before the leaves of the plant open. A place for landing is chosen bright, protected from the wind and not waterlogged. It would be nice if some bushes were planted around it. This will help the tree grow faster.
For planting in the soil with a stick, a hole is made about 25 cm deep. The root of the seedling is straight, taproot, almost without lateral branches. It is lowered into the hole so that the remains of the acorn on the seedling are at a depth of 2-3 cm from the soil level. The earth around is compacted. And yet, an essential addition that needs to be mentioned for the successful cultivation of oak. Many plants grow very slowly without mycorrhiza on their roots. Mycorrhiza is a commonwealth of the roots of different plants and mycelium. Without this mutually beneficial community, some plants do not grow at all or grow very poorly, especially if they find themselves in unusual conditions. Therefore, if you dug up a young red oak seedling from a friend or bought it at a garden center, at all costs keep a whole earthen ball around the roots. When it is destroyed, you will have very little chance that the tree will take root.
You can try to grow a seedling yourself. For example, by rooting green cuttings. It should only be borne in mind that cuttings taken from adult plants almost do not take root, but from young ones they are more successful. The cutting time also influences rooting. For cuttings of young plants, the first decade of June is best, but for older plants - May. As a stimulant, you can use heteroauxin. Oaks also reproduce well by planting fresh acorns. Collection is made in September and October, even November is suitable for some species. Sow acorns should be immediately after assembly, preventing them from drying out. If the autumn is dry, then after sowing the acorns they need to be watered and it is recommended to cover them with spruce branches to prevent damage by rodents. During germination, the top of the acorn cracks and a white root appears on the outside. After two weeks, it grows up to 10 cm, and then throws out the stem. In the first year of life, tree shoots reach 10-15 cm.
Oak seedling care involves removing weeds and watering during dry periods. In order for the oak to better prepare for the winter, watering is stopped a month before the massive leaf fall. During return frosts, young trees are recommended to cover, adult plants older than 5 years are not required. Rarely, but red oak can be affected by powdery mildew. It manifests itself as a white bloom on the leaves. To combat it, spraying with a 1% solution of copper sulfate or colloidal sulfur is used.
Never fertilize plants with fresh manure! An excess of free nitrogen contained in manure forms loose tissues in all parts of the plant, the wood does not ripen by autumn, and in winter the plant can freeze severely or even die.
The crown can be limited by pruning, which should be carried out once every 2-3 years. In oak, the main stem continues to grow until the end of the plant's life, dominating the side shoots. Stem growth can be slowed down by removing the apical bud. You can also pinch the shoot, cut the branches, shorten the branches and shoots. Shearing favors branching of the plant. The best time for oak pruning is late winter and early spring. In winter, branches can be removed only if the temperature outside does not fall below -5 C. Lower temperatures can cause freezing of areas of wood and bark adjacent to the cut. In the summer, pruning a tree is also not recommended. Sanitary pruning involves the removal of drying, diseased, damaged branches, as well as those that grow inside the crown.
When planted alone, the tree becomes wide and short, with a spreading crown. In group plantings, oak grows taller, slender and straight. Decorative species of oak are used in single plantings, looking especially good with conifers, while creating an elegant park landscape. Oak is often used for planting in alleys, while the distance between trees should be about 6-8 meters. Oaks have a very wide and spreading crown, which requires a lot of space, and this should be taken into account when planting a tree on a personal plot. Red oak is a strong tree. If you want to decorate your site - try to grow it.
Red oak wood. Photo and description. Landing and care. American Red Oaks
Red oak is native to North America, where it mainly grows, covering part of Canada. It grows to a height of up to 25 meters, and life expectancy reaches about 2000 years. This is a deciduous tree with a dense, tent-shaped crown and a thin trunk covered with smooth grayish bark. The crown is strewn with thin, shiny, up to 2.5 cm long leaves. It begins to bloom with the beginning of blooming leaves from 15-20 years of age. The fruits of red oak are red-brown acorns up to 2 centimeters long. It can grow on any soil, except for calcareous and waterlogged ones.
1 Planting and care
2 Oak varieties
3 A bit of history
Planting and care
Plant in early spring, before the leaves begin to bloom. To do this, a small depression is made in the ground and a seedling is lowered into it, making sure that the remains of the acorn are not lower than 2 cm from the soil level. For its planting, places are chosen with good lighting and soil without lime content, as well as places located on a hill so that moisture does not stagnate. After planting, during the first 3 days, the seedling is regularly watered. Red oak care comes down to regular pruning of dry branches and organization of wintering of young plants. For the winter, plants take shelter in the first 3 years of life, wrapping burlap or other material around the trunk that can protect a young tree from severe frosts. An adult tree does not need such protection.
Oak is propagated by its fruits (acorns), which are harvested in late autumn under healthy and strong trees to grow equally strong and healthy seedlings. It can be planted both in autumn and spring, although it is very difficult to keep them safe and sound until spring. Best of all, they survive the winter under the trees, and in the spring you can collect already germinated acorns.
Diseases and pests
In general, red oak is resistant to pests and diseases, but still sometimes subject to some diseases and pests. As a disease, necrosis of the branches and trunk can be noted, and as pests - powdery mildew, fruit moth, oak leafworm. He especially suffers from powdery mildew, which is not treatable.
Red oak bark and leaves are used in medicine to prepare decoctions and infusions, as well as to make medicines. Infusions and decoctions are used in the treatment of eczema, varicose veins, inflammation of the gums, diseases of the spleen and liver. Tinctures from young oak bark can improve blood circulation, have the ability to increase immunity, and raise the tone of the body.
Preparations are made during the period of sap flow, and leaves are harvested in mid-May. The harvested raw materials are dried under sheds. With proper storage, oak bark retains its medicinal properties for 5 years.
Use of wood
Oak wood, strong and durable with a light brown or yellowish brown tint that darkens with age. He played a major role in the transformation of the industry in the United States and is the symbol of the state of New Jersey. At the dawn of the industrial revolution in this country, wheels, plows, barrels, looms, reinforced concrete sleepers and, of course, furniture and other everyday utensils were produced from it. Its wood is heavy and hard with good bending and resistance properties. When applied, the bark bends perfectly. It lends itself well to physical processing. When using screws, it is advisable to pre-drill the holes. Easily polished and easily processed with various dyes and polishing agents. Nowadays, it is used for the manufacture of furniture, decoration elements, veneer, parquet, parquet boards, doors, interior decoration, lining manufacturing.
Oak is considered a sacred tree by many nations. He was worshiped by the ancient Slavs and Celts as a deity. This tree has a powerful energy and is a symbol of stamina and courage to this day.
Red oak can be attributed to the main element of park and urban gardening and is the best material for landscape design. This plant requires a large area for its use in landscape compositions. In this regard, it is used to decorate large squares and parks. Unfortunately, it is not possible to plant such a tree, due to its impressive size, in a personal plot or cottage.
Western Europe uses it in landscaping because of its ability to block noise and also because of its phytoncidal properties. It is used in row plantings for wind protection of residential areas and central highways.
Pedunculate oak. One of the most durable types. Although the average life expectancy ranges from 500-900 years, but, according to sources, they are able to live up to 1500 years. In nature, it grows in Central and Western Europe, as well as the European part of Russia. It has a slender trunk, up to 50 meters high - in dense stands, and a short trunk with a wide, spreading crown in open spaces. Wind-resistant, thanks to a strong root system. Grows slowly. Prolonged waterlogging of the soil is difficult to tolerate, but can withstand 20 days of flooding.
Downy oak. A long-lived tree up to 10 meters high, which can be found in Southern Europe and Asia Minor, in the Crimea and in the northern part of Transcaucasia. It is often found as a shrub.
White oak. Found in eastern North America. A powerful beautiful tree up to 30 meters high, with strong spreading branches forming a tent-shaped crown.
Swamp oak. A tall tree (up to 25 meters) with a narrow pyramidal crown at a young age and a broad pyramidal crown at maturity. The greenish-brown bark of the tree trunk remains smooth for a long time.
Willow oak. Differs in the original shape of the leaves, resembling willow leaves in shape.
Holm oak. The native land of this evergreen tree is Asia Minor, Southern Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean. A beautiful and valuable view for park design. This tree has been in cultivation since 1819. Drought-resistant and frost-resistant.
Chestnut leaf oak. This type of oak is listed in the Red Book. In the wild, it can be found in the Caucasus, Armenia and northern Iraq. Its height reaches 30 meters and has a tent-shaped crown. The leaves are similar in appearance to chestnut leaves and have triangular pointed teeth along the edges. It grows quickly, has an average resistance to low temperatures.
Large-fruited oak. Fairly tall tree (up to 30 meters) with a wide tent-like crown and thick trunk. Immediately, long leaves, obovate in shape, up to 25 cm long, catch the eye. They become very beautiful in autumn. It grows very quickly, loves moisture, moderately hardy.
A bit of history
Man has been using the wonderful properties of this unique tree since ancient times. Paradoxically, but the oak, or rather its fruits, our ancestors used for food. During excavations in the Dnieper region, archaeologists found evidence that in the 4th-3rd millennium BC bread was baked from acorns, after grinding them into flour. In the Middle Ages, in many European countries, acorn flour was used to bake bread. For example, old Poland practically did not know about bread baked without mixing such flour. In Russia, in general, they baked bread from acorn flour and partially added rye flour to the dough. Such bread, in the famine years, was the staple food.
In the 12th century, pigs were grazed in oak forests. They were driven into the forests when the forest cover was strewn with wild apples, pears and acorns. The love of pigs for acorns can be judged by the saying: "Although the boar is full, it will not pass by the acorn."
We cannot ignore the attitude of our ancestors towards oak as a building material. In the 17th-18th centuries, entire cities were built from oak, and flotillas were also built.