A red oak (Quercus spp.) is a medium to tall tree that has a medium to fast growth rate, depending on species. Red oak trees grow up to 2 feet each year. There are several species of red oak trees, and what you plant depends on where you live.
Expect a red oak to gain up to 2 feet of height per year for at least the first 20 years after planting. Some red oaks will sprout up as much as 36 inches per year.
Types of Red Oaks
Red oak trees native to the United States are the northern red oak, the southern red oak and the Texas red oak. The northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, reaching a mature height of 50 to 80 feet. The growth rate is moderate to fast, so expect them to grow taller by an average of 24 to 36 inches per year. These are considered good shade trees for urban areas.
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The southern red oak (Quercus falcata) is hardy in zones 6 through 9. It also grows at a medium to fast rate, with a growth rate of 12 to 36 inches per year. It has many of the same characteristics as the northern red oak, although it's sensitive to cold. Experts recommend that those planting southern red oaks in zone 6 place the tree in a protected area in case of a deep freeze.
The Texas red oak (Quercus texana) is smaller than the other red oaks, typically growing to about 35 feet tall, although it sometimes grows as tall as 80 feet. This tree grows at a fast clip, around 24 to 36 inches a year. It's hardy in zones 6 through 9.
Red Oak Characteristics
The red oak's moderate to fast growth rate makes it desirable as a shade tree. These trees like full sun and can withstand some drought conditions. Northern red oak leaves turn a reddish-bronze each fall, while southern red oak leaves turn a coppery shade. The Texas red oak leaves turn a vivid red to red-orange.
Red oaks typically prefer slightly acidic soil that is rich in clay, loam and sand. The soil should also drain well. They produce small, rounded acorns in the fall, although they don't produce a lot of acorns until they become mature. Acorns from red oaks provide food for wildlife, including wild turkeys, squirrels, deer, blue jays and black bears.
These trees are known for their hardy characteristics. They are easier to transplant than most trees. They grow in a rounded shape and produce a dense crown, which makes them good shade trees. The roots rarely cause problems when planted near streets or sidewalks.
Care of Red Oaks
Plant red oaks in full sun for best results. They do not work well in swampy areas that tend to retain water, but they can survive the occasional flood. If you're planting a series of them, space them at least 8 to 18 feet apart to avoid crowding them.
If planting as a bare-root seedling, provide good weed control for the first three years. Dig a hole that's twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep so the tree sits in the hole without having its crown buried. Water it well and cover the roots with a thick layer of mulch. Protect the young tree from rabbits and deer with a fence or cage.
New trees need to be watered regularly. Plan on a thorough soaking once a week if there's no rain. In periods of extended drought, water established trees. Red oak trees are durable and long living with few disease or fungal problems.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Quercus texana: Texas Red Oak
- Arbor Day Foundation: The Tree Guide
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Quercus falcata
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Quercus rubra
- Texas A&M Forest Service: Texas Oak
- Morton Arboretum: Northern Red Oak
- Cal Poly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Southern Red Oak
- Kansas Forest Service: Northern Red Oak