As an arborist, the question I am asked most frequently is, “What fast growing shade tree would you recommend for my landscape?” My answer has been the same for the past thirty years: Bur Oak. If you have adequate room in your landscape—because it will get quite large, Bur Oak is my recommendation.
It’s easy to justify. Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is native to north central Texas. Walk the creeks and rivers that cut through the Blackland Prairies and you will find them. They may be scattered in with pecans, black walnuts, and other oaks in bottomland forests, or anchored into the white rock just above the creek beds where they have been watching the water flow for hundreds of years. They are at home in the deep, rich alluvial soils in the bottom terraces of our waterways, or the thin black soils that rest just above the fractured limestone that blankets this region of the state. While some introduced trees, such as Sweetgum and Magnolia, may struggle with our alkaline soil and our slightly basic water, the Bur Oak is adaptive and quite at home.
Weather extremes are of little concern. After a two or three year establishment period, supplemental watering is appreciated, but rarely necessary. The Bur Oak comes out the other end of drought with some brown margined leaves and a few less acorns—but mostly unaffected. The ice storms of the late 1970s taught us that broken limbs on this oak were the exception. Its strong wood and natural branching habit create a skeletal structure with rarely a fault. When fall comes, and it drops its shroud of yellowed leaves, an engineered marvel of twists and turns is displayed until the spring buds pop.
It is our good fortune the Bur Oak has so few insect and disease concerns. Could it be that the insects have conceded? There are the pesky aphids. And, the lacebugs do occasionally try to stipple the leaves. But they are the exception—and rarely require addressing. Galls present themselves from time to time; but they can be quite fascinating and are nothing more than an aesthetic curiosity. Even Oak Wilt bypasses the Bur Oak, or affects it in ways we don’t yet see or understand.
Some homeowners consider the size of the acorns to be a negative, but don’t argue the point with the squirrels. While their acorn size is unforgettable, the number is manageable. Know this when determining where you plant this tree. And keep in mind; it may be there for the next 200-years.
“How fast will it grow?”—that is always the next question. Once established, expect 18”-24” a year. And in good years, and with good feeding and care, expect 3 feet. Few non-native trees can meet that expectation, so there is no need to settle for short-lived, fast-growing substitutes.
Bur Oaks are readily available in area nurseries. The only Bur Oak that doesn’t grow fast is the one that never is planted.