I am often asked “What is the fastest growing shade tree for my yard?” When I recommend the bur oak I am often met with skepticism. A lot of people initially argue with me about my suggestion (which always makes me wonder why they asked for my opinion if they didn’t want it). They are quick to bring up all of the common issues associated with oaks (in general). We’ve all heard them. Oaks are slow growing. Their roots grow on top of the soil and damage your slab or your sidewalks. They get oak wilt. While each of those statements are true in some measure in certain oak species, none of them apply to the bur oak.
The bur oak is one of the fastest growing and the largest of all of the oaks in Texas. With normal water, you can expect the tree to grow a minimum of one foot per year. With ample water and a little fertilizer it is not uncommon to get two or three feet of growth per year out of your bur oak.
Bur oaks are truly impressive specimens. Besides cottonwoods, they are the only deciduous tree in Texas that can get over 100’ tall. Plus, they can develop a canopy that spreads to 80’. There are not many trees that can support a canopy that is 80’. The bur oak can do this because it is an amazingly well built tree. It develops a thick trunk and an intertwining mass of heavy branches that are seldom affected by winds or ice storms. This structure is very pretty and can be appreciated when it drops its yellow leaves in the fall.
Another reason I love the bur oak is the fact that it is native to most of Texas. This tree has been adapting to our soils and our climate for thousands and thousands of years. Because of its adaptability, you can be pretty certain that the bur oak will thrive for you whether you live in the deep, rich alluvial bottom lands of Texas’ river basins or if you live in the Hill Country that is famous for its the thin, alkaline soils that cover a limestone pan.
Because it is native, the bur oak also takes the extremes of our climate in stride. The drought of 2011 killed many, many live oaks. The live oaks died because they have a shallow root system that grows right at the soil line (and breaks slabs and sidewalks). The bur oak survived the worst drought in our history because it develops a deep tap root that can find the underground moisture needed to sustain it when the rains fail us. This deep rooting structure not only keeps it alive in low water situations but also makes it a great choice for the landscape. Deep roots do not break slab and sidewalks.
As much as I love this tree, it does have one little problem – it produces golf ball sized acorns. I have to admit, that since the acorns are large enough to interfere with mowing or heavy enough to ding a new car, you should think long and hard about where you plant it. The good news is, it doesn’t produce a ton of acorns. And, since they don’t fall but once a year in autumn, they can be managed by setting your mower a little higher or picking them up (they look great in a bowl on a table) before you mow. Besides, since the squirrels and the deer love them you will have a little help getting them out of your yard.
I truly believe the bur oak is the best choice for a fast growing Texas shade tree. Even though my friends are often skeptical, my buddy Morgan McBride is not. Morgan is a salesman for Tree Town USA and a bona fide tree expert. Tree Town produces many varieties of trees that Morgan can recommend to his many customers. However he always recommends the bur oak first. Despite the large acorns, this Texas native is almost entirely pest free and its roots grow down instead of out. With its beautiful foliage and growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year, the bur oak really is hard to beat.