The Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

 

Image from the Texas A&M Tree Selector website at http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=80

Image from the Texas A&M Tree Selector website at
http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/Display_Onetree.aspx?tid=80

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. 

This 95 gallon Bur oak is about 5 years old and is already 14' tall.  Photo by Morgan McBride

This 95 gallon Bur oak is about 5 years old and is already 14′ tall. Photo by Morgan McBride

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.

The bur oak has lovely, deeply lobed leaves that turn yellow in the fall

The bur oak has lovely, deeply lobed leaves that turn yellow 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.

buroak3As 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.

45 thoughts on “The Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

  1. My husband and I planted a Bur Oak two years ago. I love the bark on the tree and the large, glossy green leaves. It was too small to produce any acorns the first two years, however I’m expecting a thank you note from the squirrels when the tree starts producing those golf size acorns. My only concern is that I hope we gave it enough room to grow.

    PS I just recently came across your blog and I have really enjoyed reading it. Great info!

    • So glad you like it! Your blog is absolutely lovely. I would love to visit with you sometime and pick up some photog tips and find out how you did that lovely background. Thanks for reading and best of luck with the bur oak!

      • Thank you Jay for the kind comment about my blog. I’ve followed garden bloggers for years and I finally thought it was time that I start my own garden blog.

        The background is from: http://thecutestblogontheblock.com/. They have a variety of free backgrounds for blogger. I’m currently using a Canon T1i Rebel with a 50mm lens. I would love to get a Macro lens.

        I saw your garden on CTG and I have read every posts back to your very first. I think I stumbled across your blog when I was searching for information about tomato plants. I love flower gardening, but I have a lot to learn about veggie gardening.

  2. My burr oak is turning yellow. It’s July 1st ,so I am at a loss. We are north of Boerne. I would appreciate any ideas. Thank you Holly

    • It is really hard to say without a little more info. How big is it? How long has it been in the ground? Is it irrigated? What type of soil is it planted in?

  3. I have a similar yellowing issue with my Burr Oak. Located in Comal County on FM 1102 (very close to the Hays / Comal border). It was planted as a 45 Gallon during the latter part of 2011. It is on a bubbler. Last year it yellowed, then turned brown and fell off. A short time later all new foliage came out. This was in early September.

    Side note: I have another Burr Oak – a little smaller about 75 yards away from above Burr Oak. Irrigated and doing fine. Comments?

    • I sent your question to the grower at Tree Town USA. The only thing he could suggest was adding a couple more bubblers. Since the tree was originally planted from a 45 gallon container, it could be large enought that single bubbler only provides enough water to keep the tree alive.

  4. I am worried about our Burr oak tree. We plated a 95 gallon burr oak in February of this year in Comal county and it the leaves turned yellow then brown and as we got the heavy wind and rain this summer, most of the leaves fell off. I’m worried it may be in shock and do not know what I can do to help it along the way. I’ve watered it twice a week since we have had it. I do see some new life with some newer leaves coming out. If anyone has any suggestions or know when I should really worry, please let ma know.

    Thank you

    • If you see new growth then that is a good thing. I would continue your twice a week watering and think about adding a balanced fertilizer around the drip line of the tree.

  5. I just recently bought a house from 1896. It has three enormous Bur oak trees. I absolutely love them. They shade my home so amazingly. I think they have to be at least over 100 years old and still stronger than ever. There is no sign that they are dying, and I have not seen any of my sidewalk or foundation affected by them. This year we had tons of acorns from the trees, but the squirrels helped. I have tons of wildlife in my yard. My husband at first wanted to cut them down, but they have become part of the family.

  6. We rent a house with a bur oak on the property. Due to the recent drought, water restrictions, and location of the tree, we hadn’t been watering it, and we thought it had died. But about half of it came back this year (yeah!!), so the owner had it pruned and asked us to water it. My questions are: what method is best, and how much does it need at this time of year? It is about 30 feet tall and the land around it is wild. I overheard the tree service worker say it was dying, but he didn’t tell the owner that. Thanks.

    • It may be dying but unless you see obvious disease or insect damage I wouldn’t count the tree out. When watering a mature tree you want to water at the drip line. I have big oscillating spinklers that I can adjust to hit the canopy. Right now I set the sprinkle back from the tree and let it hit the leaves for about 45 minutes. This allows the water to naturally fall at the drip line. In five or six days I move the sprinkler to the other side of the tree and repeat. You can use any type of sprinkler to achieve the same effect. Another really good way to water is with drip hoses. If you have enough of them to encircle the tree at teh drip line, you can get by with watering for about 45 minutes once a week. Good luck and don’t count the burr oak out yet. It is a remarkably tough tree.

  7. Little worried just got my first bur oak about 2 weeks ago. Think it has went into shock. Not sure about how much water to give it more than likely been applying to much any help would welcomed

    • You are really going to have to baby it. I assume you are in Texas. If so, this is a tough time to be planting trees, especially if it is a large tree. Basically don’t let it dry out. Deep water it with a gurgler or by setting the hose down by it and letting the water trickle for 45 minutes or so. Do this every three days or so. You need to accomplish two things while watering. First, you have to keep the root ball moist. This is the most important. Second, you want to keep the soil around where you planted moist. This will encourage the roots to begin to spread out. They are going to grow to wherever there is moisture. Also, mulch around the tree to help conserve moisture. Do not mulch up against the tree. use the mulch to build a berm. The mulch berm will allow you to direct water to the root ball and also help retain moisture in the soil. I would also give the tree a little fertilize. You cannot over do it with an organic fertilize. If you want to use a chemical fertilizer, use about a quarter cup every month and sprinkle it lightly under the drip line of the tree.

      Finally, don’t over water. Here is a post that a county agent friend wrote for the blog. Very good. The screw driver test is a great way to see if the UNDISTURBED soil is moist. Do not expect it to work in the root ball area of the newly transported tree as the soil it is growing in is very loose. Best of luck.

      http://masterofhort.com/2013/08/tree-watering-basics-by-janet-laminack/

  8. I am and architect from Turkey and planning to have my own American Style Pond House here in a year or two. Neither a pond house nor an American Style House exist in my country. American trees, American fishes, American looking construction.

    I started this project , trying to find right tree species and i came up with 10 species from the USA. The most important one of them was Bur Oak, hands down.

    I chose Bur’s because i knew they were hardy and very gorgeous trees and would fit my city’s semi – desert climate. I potted them up a week ago and have been waiting for them to sprout.

    Bur Oak subject has been confusing a little , for me. I like researching and i can say that i read maybe 30 articles about Bur Oaks including USDA Forrest Service, Uni. of Florida Environmental Horticulture and so on.

    30 articles weren’t enough to get me informed about growth speed of these trees. Some sources would define them as “slow growing oak species” while some sources like this one would state the counterwise. A couple hours ago a friend told me that his Bur Oak grew 10′ in its first year, with some rabbit manure fertilization. What – the – heck ? 🙂

    Another confusion was about their germination. I read that some of the acorns would germinate in fall , right after hitting the ground and some would wait for the spring. What kind of a tree is that Jay? 🙂 A little sprout can survive subzeros? Maybe i just don’t know anything about trees and this is a very common thing. But still, very amazing. This dilemma of germination makes me think: What kind of an environment should i provide for my acorns to germinate? A fall environment or a spring environment?

    I am not asking any questions by the way. Just wanted to share my thoughts.

    Great article. Thanks Jay.

    • Even though you are not asking a question I would like to comment on the growth rate your friend got. Ten feet of growth in a single year he is extremely lucky. Typically, once your acorns germinate, they will grow two or three feet the first year if there is ample water and nutrients. They may grow that much in year two as well. However, once they get about 5 or 6 feet tall the growth rate will slow to about 1 to 2 feet a year. This is still outstanding for the oak family.

      Thanks for the great comment and best of luck with the burr oak. I love hearing from readers in far away places.

  9. I just received 10 Bur Oak seedlings from Missouri Extension Servises. They are about 2 to 3 feet tall. I placed them in 8 gallon pots to baby them until next spring.

    Please tell me what I need to do to keep them healthy until they are ready to plant in their permenant location. I live around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

    Thank you

    • Here’s what nurseries do. Fist make sure you have a well draining potting media. When mixing your potting media add in a good slow release fertilize like Osmocote at the rate of about 1 cup per five gallons of media. Once you have them potted up, place your seedlings in a location that will receive afternoon shade at a minimum. In fact many nurseries grow under shade cloth. Whatever option you choose just make sure they are protected from the hot afternoon and evening sun. I would also figure out a way to stop my pots from blowing over or getting knocked over. A quick and easy way to do this is to stake 2X4s or 2X6s on either side of the pot. Finally water regularly. Nurseries use individual emitters in each pot. This emitters are set to spray 6 to 7 times a day. I know this is not practical for the homeowner. However, be sure to hand water every day. In the heat of the summer it would not be overkill to water twice a day if possible. That is a lot, and i know they will most likely survive on less treatment. However, I think if you follow those steps you will have a very good chance of having 10 healthy, well rooted seedlings next spring.

      • Jay, thank you very much for your response. It is refresing to know there is someone who not only offers direction to gardners, but do it in such a timely manner.

        I will do as you suggest. Thanks!

  10. Hi I live in Canada. We planted a Burr oak 9 years ago. It has grown quite nicely over those years , Increased height by about 10 feet. This spring the leaves started coming open about and inch long out of the ends of branches and I just noticed yesterday that most of the leaves at the end of branches are all dried up, We did have a good frost 3 nites ago. Would this effect my oak tree, Its never froze before in the spring , Very concerned I will have to chop it down ..Please help …Thank you Penny may 16\2015

    • Penny, these trees are remarkably tough. I would not worry about cutting it down yet. Can you send pictures? We had a hard winter two years ago. The following spring one of our oaks put on unusually large numbers of leaves all along the limbs and the trunk. We were worried but trimmed off the excessive growth.mmit survived and came back as normal this year. If the leaves were new and tender it is possible that late season freeze burned them.

  11. We planned a 95 gallon bur oak this winter and it has done great until a few days ago. The leaves have started to yellow and fall. We live in north Texas and had a record breaking wet spring. Now we fill two tree bags twice a week. What are we doing wrong?

    • Very difficult to say. Can you send a picture? Especially of the base of the trunk. This could be many things. Since it is a new tree I am most concerned that it may have been planted too deeply.

  12. We have some bur oaks we planted from seeds in pots three years ago. They were doing great until a week ago. I moved some of the pots to space the trees better and two days later the leaves started to dry and are falling off. I’m thinking I disturbed the natural moisture barrier that had accumulate around the pots when I moved them and now they can’t hold the moisture even with regular watering. I did scratch the limb bark and it is still green underneath. Are they gone or will they come back?

    • Hard to say. These are very tough trees so I don’t think it is too late. Is it possible to plant them? If not, you can try cutting the bottoms out of the pots and planting that way. That will keep the root ball intact and allow them to pull moisture from the soil. Just know this is a temporary fix. If you leave them like this for six months they will become established

  13. I need help with a unknown problem on one of our Bur oaks. Loosing leaves and leaves are curling up and browning. It does not appear to be insects. Can you help if I send a picture?

    • Please send the pictures. Also let me know how old the tree is, how long it has been planted, where you are located, how much rain you have received lately and any other observances you may have noticed

      • We live in Forney TX. Have total clay soil, received record rain fall in May and continuing in June. The tree is at least 15 years old, approximately 50′ tall, has been planted in the same spot for at least 15 years and always very healthy until now. We can get some very strong southern winds but nothing unusual for our area. The other Bur oak beside it has not evidence of any damage. I have a picture and don’t know how to attach it to blog site. Any help on that and I will send it. Or do you have an email I can send the picture to?

        • One more question. Is this happening to all of the leaves or only to the new ones or only to the established ones? Please send the pictures to jswhitewaco at gmail dot com.

  14. We have a burr oak in Austin that’s about 35 or 40 ft tall, but not that wide. It has a drop line that’s about 20′ diameter, and the widest part is the lowest branch that we’ll likely prune off soon so you can walk and be under it. It seems healthy. The branches are densely covered in tiny little chutes, starting at the trunk. The trunk at breast height is only about 8″ in diameter. We’ve had 3 arborists look at it, and now I’m not sure what should be done to help it grow outward more, instead upward. They all mentioned thinning a bit. All were ok with removing lower limbs, though we’re not sure about it since it’s the widest part right now. One mentioned reducing the inner growth by about 50%. Also neither one who gave us a quote for pruning had a problem doing it in late August, even though I keep reading the pruning in mid winter is best. Would love your thoughts. (Love the huge acorns! This our first year in the house.)

    • Nadia, I am not an arborist but I will be happy to send your question to my tree expert. Give me a day or so and let’s see what he says.

  15. We live in north Texas and have sandy soil. I want to plant a bur oak in the yard area of our circle drive. That circle yard has a sprinkler system installed with rotation heads along the edges and a buried drip line leading up to the center (for previous flower bed that was there). Also, it’s a full sun area.
    Question 1: With the irrigation system would it be okay to plant bur oak tree now, this close to the Texas summer heat, or should wait until next winter?

    2: If we wait, what month would you suggest?

    3: due to sandy soil, what size tree would you suggest we plant?

    • Since you have the sprinkler system you can plant just about anytime. Now would be great. What I would suggest is installing a ring type irrigation system that goes around the base of the tree. Here is a link from a blog that does a great job explaining what I am talking about: https://artisticgardener.wordpress.com/category/fruit-treesorchard/watering-fruit-treesorchard/. Make sure that the drip around the tree trunks runs long enough (an hour or so) every third day until the tree is established. This should take about a year.

      As far as size, I like to purchase the largest i can afford. However, large trees take more care to become established. In the end it depends on what your goal is. If you want a nice showy tree quickly plant a 35 gallon or bigger. If you have time, 15 gallon and below establish much quicker.

  16. I live in north Dakota. We planted 25 bur oak from our state nursery got them as a plug about 2 years old and about 8 to 15 inches in height with no leaves. we planted them one day after receiving them around may 6. we watered them 2 a week the first two months and now once a week unless it rains. out of the 25 trees only two have leaves the rest have buds on them but no leaves. scrapped the bark on a some and they are green. we did use a little miracle grow on them and have tree squares around them. are they in shock or just wait until next year to see what happens.

    • If they have buds that means that they are viable. Not sure why they have not produced leaves. Planting smaller trees like that is probably the best way to get them to establish. I would recommend continuing to water and just give them a little more time. You do not need to fertilize trees when you are trying to get them established. Water grows white stuff (roots) and fertilize grows green stuff. Right now you want to focus on root production.

  17. the first thing i planted two bur oaks over ten years agoo get some acorn but not large ones why.thy have full sun lots water but not standing.any help should i trim ?

    • If you have ten year old trees you should be getting a good acorn crop. I am not sure about the size. Some bur oak acorns range in size from large marble to golf ball. If the tree is not doing well I would call your local extension office and ask if they have a tree person that could come take a look.

  18. I hired a highly regarded nursery to plant three 45 gallon bur oaks at a cemetery in Salado, Texas. The trees were planted on July 6, 2016. There is no available water in the cemetery, and the soil is rather rocky. I purchased two 26 gallon watering tanks, which would fit in my SUV, along with five 5 gallon watering cans. With this “watering system” I was able to put approximately 25 gallons of water on each tree on an everyday basis for several months. Two of the trees put on new growth and seemed to flourish. The third tree kept its leaves but did not put on any new growth. During the winter months, I slacked off a little and watered the trees 2 to 3 times per week. This Spring, one tree is lush and covered with beautiful leaves. The second tree is fully leafed out, but not as lush. The third tree has put on a few leaves but they are sparse and came out very late. ie, the tree seems to be struggling. All three trees are mulched, well watered, fertilized according to the nursery’s instructions, etc. Any suggestions about tree number #3? I’ve enjoyed your articles!

    • The first thing I would do is pull back the mulch from the base of #3 and make sure the root collar is well above the soil level. If it is I would leave the mulch back for two or three months and see if the tree improves. If you think the root collar is below soil level you need to pull it up and replant it so that the root collar is 3 to 6 inches above the soil line. If the tree looks properly planted i would check to see if #3 is root bound. 45 gallon containers hold big trees that have been grown in a container their entire life. Because of this it is not uncommon for them to become root bound. Try and shake the tree. If it moves around more readily than the other two there is a good chance the tree was root bound when it was planted. If this is the case you will need to either cut the roots with a sharp shooter or dig the tree up, cut the roots and spread them out and then replant. We generally do not recommend that you fertilize transplanted trees in the first year. Fertilizer grows green stuff, water grows white stuff (roots). Year one is to get the plant firmly rooted in the existing soil. By now, you can fertilize fairly freely. Since #1 and #2 are doing so well I would back off on their fertilizer a little and give #3 a little more. place the fertilizer right at the drip line. This will encourage the roots to work their way out from the base of the tree.

      • Many thanks for your advice and for sharing your experience. I will follow your instructions and really appreciate the help.

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