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Managing oak and hickory forests

Quick facts

  • Oak and hickory are commercially valuable for construction products and other uses, like fuelwood.
  • Northern red oak, white oak, bur oak, black oak, northern pin oak and various hickories make up an oak-hickory forest. 
  • Oaks grow best on north- and east-facing, gently sloping, lower slopes where soils are at least 36 inches deep.
  • Oaks commonly reproduce from acorns, and stump sprouts after a harvest.
  • You can regenerate stands on moderate to good sites when the oaks are 60 to 90 years old and trees average 18 to 24 inches in diameter at breast height 
  • The red-humped oakworm, two-lined chestnut borer, oak wilt and shoestring root rot are significant pests on oaks.
Oak trees in a forest

Oak is valued in furniture, flooring, paneling, railroad ties, cooperage and fuelwood. Hickory, a wood of great strength, has much less market demand but is used for furniture, tool handles, high-strength specialty items, flooring, plywood, fuelwood and charcoal.

The oak-hickory forest is home to many game animals such as white-tailed deer, turkey, gray and fox squirrels and ruffed grouse. Raccoon, opossum, red fox, bobcat, skunk and many birds also take advantage of this forest type.

Growing conditions

Northern red oak, white oak, bur oak, black oak, northern pin oak and various hickories make up an oak-hickory forest. 

In this forest, you will also find red and sugar maple, black cherry, American basswood, black walnut, white pine, and white and green ash. If left undisturbed, an oak-hickory stand in the Upper Midwest will shift toward more shade-tolerant species.

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Reproducing oaks and hickory

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Intermediate treatments

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Pest management

The red-humped oakworm, two-lined chestnut borer, oak wilt and shoestring root rot are significant pests on oaks.

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CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Remember, the label is the law.

Mel Baughman, emeritus Extension forester

Reviewed in 2019

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