- Shade Tree of the Week — Nuttall Oak (What’s that?)
- Nuttall oak – one of the best oaks for Louisiana
- Nuttall Oak Information – Tips For Nuttall Oak Tree Care
- Nuttall Oak Information
- How to Grow a Nuttall Oak
- Facts on Nuttall Oak Trees
- Growing Habits
- Plant of the Week: Nuttall Oak
Shade Tree of the Week — Nuttall Oak (What’s that?)
Any discussion of great shade trees for home gardens has to start with the oaks. Oaks are tough, adaptable, long-lived, strong-wooded, and tolerant of heat, cold, and drought. Most are also beautiful. But as with any large group, some oaks are gems while others are losers. Here is a relatively little-known gem that is getting rave reviews for its looks and ease of growth — Nuttall oak.
Native to the American Southeast and Midwest, Nuttall oak (Quercus nutallii) is quickly replacing some other oaks, such as pin oak (Q. palustris), red oak (Q. rubra), and Shumard red oak (Q. shumardii), because it combines all of their good points while lacking their weaknesses. It quickly grows into a pyramidal tree 40 to 60 feet tall with a strong central leader. It accepts most soils, even alkaline or wet ones. It drops all of its leaves cleanly in late fall. Nuttall oak leaves plenty of head room beneath its branches, making it an excellent lawn, patio, or street tree. It doesn’t develop surface roots and won’t invade water lines.
Maples are rightly recognized as the best shade tree for fall color, but Nuttall oak is no slouch. Its deeply lobed leaves turn bright red in mid- to late fall, usually after the maples have dropped. I took these photos last week at Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover, Alabama.
Now you may think that a tree with a nutty name like Nuttall oak would be hard to find at garden centers and nurseries. Not necessarily, young Skywalker. Because of the tree’s quick growth and pleasing shape, wholesalers like growing it and retailers like selling it. You just have to ask for Nuttall oak by name. It’s a good choice for USDA Zones 5-9, which includes all of the South except tropical South.
Don’t Plant This
Probably the most widely planted oak is pin oak (Q.palustris), named for the fact that before people made pins from steel, they made them from pin oak. (See, this is the kind of interesting trivia you just won’t find in other blogs.) Pin oak owes its popularity to its fast growth, pyramidal shape, and red fall foliage.
Unfortunately, it also suffers from two major flaws. First, its lower branches hang all the way to the ground, making it impossible to walk, mow, or park a car beneath it. Second, it absolutely requires acid soil. If your soil is the least bit limey, pin oak’s leaves will be yellow in summer instead of green. The lack of chlorophyll responsible for the yellow means the tree can’t make food from sunlight, so it slowly starves to death. Even lime leaching from nearby concrete can cause this. So plant Nuttall oak instead.
Nuttall oak – one of the best oaks for Louisiana
News Release Distributed 11/30/12
By Allen Owings
LSU AgCenter horticulturist
This is a great time to add new trees to our landscapes. Oak trees are very popular in Louisiana landscapes, and we are familiar with the popular Southern live oak. Deciduous oaks – those that lose foliage in winter – common in Louisiana are water oak, shumard oak, southern red oak and willow oak. The one, however, with the best potential for landscape use is the nuttall oak.
Underused by homeowners and professional landscapers, nuttall oaks offer many advantages. And they’re increasingly available at Louisiana garden centers.
Nuttall oaks are native to Louisiana and are one of the best of the oak species for adaptability to a wide range of soil conditions. Nuttall oaks prefer loamy, well-drained soil but also do well in more poorly drained clay-type soils. Soil pH is not a major factor. In native stands you will see nuttall oaks in association with swamp red maples, water oaks and black willow.
A moderate to fast growth rate is characteristic of nuttall oak. An average mature height of 50 feet or so is common in the landscape, although individual trees can easily reach 80-100 feet. Average spread is anywhere from 25-40 feet.
Nuttall oaks have better branch development at a younger age than other oak trees. The canopy is oval to rounded as the tree begins to mature, with the upper branches ascending and the lower branches being more horizontal in habit. The foliage is coarse-textured with five to nine lobes.
Fall foliage color is typically good to excellent on nuttall oaks. Color is better in north and central Louisiana than in south Louisiana. Acorn production is good on nuttall oaks, and they are a great source of wildlife food. Nuttall oak have no pests or disease issues of major concern, although improper pruning cuts can lead to stem cankers.
Very few oak trees are better for landscape use and adaptability than nuttall oak. The LSU AgCenter has nuttall oak listed as a top-rated tree for the New Orleans area. It performs equally well elsewhere in the state. Its tolerance to varying soil conditions, moderate growth rate, great fall foliage color and good branching characteristics make for outstanding performance.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by viewing the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals.
Nuttall Oak Information – Tips For Nuttall Oak Tree Care
Many gardeners are not familiar with nuttall oak trees (Quercus nuttallii). What is a nuttall oak? It is a tall deciduous tree native to this country. For more nuttall oak information, including tips on how to grow a nuttall oak, read on.
Nuttall Oak Information
These trees are in the red oak family. They grow to 60 feet tall and 45 feet (14-18 m.) wide. As native trees, they require minimal nuttall oak tree care. Vigorous and strong, nuttall oaks grow in a pyramidal form. They later mature into a round-canopied tree. The tree’s upper branches tip upward, while lower limbs grow straight out horizontally without drooping.
Like most oak trees, a nuttall oak has lobed leaves, but they are smaller than the leaves of many oaks. Nuttall oak information suggests that the leaves grow in red or maroon, then mature into deep green. In autumn, they turn red once again before falling to the ground in winter.
You can identify this tree best by its unique acorn. It is about one inch (2.5 cm.) long and almost as wide. The acorns are plentiful and brown with caps that cover almost half of the acorn base. Squirrels and other mammals eat the acorns.
How to Grow a Nuttall Oak
Growing nuttall oak trees is a good idea for gardeners desiring tall shade trees. The species thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, and in those regions, the trees won’t need much nuttall oak care.
The first step in growing this tree is to locate a large enough site. Take into account the tree’s mature size. It can grow to 80 feet (24 m.) tall and 50 (15 m.) feet wide. Don’t plan on growing nuttall oak trees in small garden areas. In fact, these tall, easy-care trees are often planted in large parking lot islands, buffer strips around parking lots or in highway median-strips.
Plant the acorns or seedlings in garden areas that get full sun. Soil type is less important, as these native trees tolerate wet or dry soil. They do, however, grow best in acidic soil.
Fall is the ideal time to plant hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines. If you’ve been thinking about adding a shade tree to your landscape, do it now.
Oaks are a popular option. Quercus is the Latin name for the genus that includes all oak species, including some that are native to Louisiana.
Since they grow large and live a long time, care must be taken when selecting oaks for your yard.
They are not among the fastest growing shade trees, but some species grow faster than others. The slower rate of growth has its benefits as it contributes to the strength of the wood and long life of these trees.
The water oak, for instance, grows quite rapidly for an oak and has relatively brittle wood and a short life expectancy.
People considering an oak need to carefully consider the suitable species and choose the one that best suits the location.
Here are some of the options.
Water oak (Quercus nigra)
Perhaps the most common species growing in the New Orleans area, the water oak freely self-seeds, and many local trees are the result of seedlings that homeowners simply allowed to grow.
The fastest growing of our native oaks, it also is the shortest-lived. Most water oaks grow to be massively large (60 to 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide) in just 50 to 60 years. At that time, they tend to develop decay in their trunks and fall apart.
Although they make nice shade trees early in their lives, this habit of decay and breaking or blowing over in high winds makes the water oak among the less desirable species to plant.
Live oak (Quercus virginiana)
The live oak is nearly everyone’s favorite oak. There are certainly good reasons for this.
With its lustrous, dark, semi-evergreen leaves and gracefully spreading branches, the live oak is beautiful. And, it’s one of our most hurricane-resistant native trees.
The live oak is a tough, strong, decay-resistant species that has an exceptionally long life expectancy as a result.
Live oaks can live for hundreds of years and grow to be massively large. To stand in the presence of an ancient live oak is to be humbled by its size, endurance and beauty. We are fortunate to live in one of the few places in the world where these amazing trees grow to perfection. I love live oaks.
Given this, you might be surprised that I’m constantly telling people not to plant them. Did I mention live oaks are huge? At 60 feet, the height is fairly modest for an oak. It’s the spread of 75 to 100 feet that’s the issue.
They are far too large for the typical urban lot. Planted in the wrong location, a live oak can completely overwhelm a yard and neighboring yards as well, casting dense, heavy shade.
A mature live oak’s massive surface root system will readily destroy sidewalks, curbs, driveways and patios if planted too close. And their natural, low, spreading growth habit (live oak branches typically sweep down to the ground as the trees age) is unsuitable to the typical urban landscape or street planting.
As a result, live oaks have to be pruned through much of their lives to force them to have an unnatural more upright growth habit. No other type of shade tree has to be pruned as much to train it.
Even so, it’s typical to see live oaks along streets with large, low branches scarred where vehicles have hit them or massive wounds where low, large branches had to be pruned off to clear traffic lanes.
My advice is to love the live oak for the magnificent tree it is, but be careful in adding it to your landscape.
Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii) and Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii)
I recommend two native oak species: the Nuttall and the Shumard. These oaks have moderate growth rates: faster than a live oak but not as fast as a water oak. They live longer (more than 100 years) and are not so prone to trunk rot as water oaks.
The Nuttall oak is well suited to the south shore, while the Shumard oak is native to the more upland soils of the north shore. When planting on the south shore, avoid planting the Shumard oak in low damp areas.
Both of these oaks have upright, oval growth habits, about 50 to 60 feet tall and 30 to 40 feet wide, which fit well in urban landscapes. They lose their large, deeply lobbed leaves from late November through early December.
Both will achieve some fall color; the Nuttall oak turns a dull yellowish-orange while the Shumard turns a more attractive burgundy red.
Willow oak (Quercus phellos)
The native willow oak is similar in size, shape and growth rate to the last two species. It’s an excellent tree for the New Orleans area, and, like the Shumard and Nuttall, it deserves to be more widely planted.
The common name comes from the very narrow, willow-shaped leaves — my favorite characteristic. Not only does it give the oak a somewhat unique texture and appearance when compared to other oaks, it also makes the tree one of the neatest ones around.
The narrow leaves seem to just disappear when they drop in the fall. So, as far as deciduous trees go, this one is less likely to burden you with leaf raking in the fall.
More to consider
There are other species of oaks to consider, and information on them is available online or in references, such as “Southern Plants” by Odenwald and Turner.
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Facts on Nuttall Oak Trees
les trois freres image by zoulhou from Fotolia.com
Nuttall is a type of oak tree that is native to North America. It is frequently found along riverbanks and streams, in bottom land and in other low-lying areas where wet conditions prevail. While Nuttall is also frequently called red oak, red river oak and pin oak, it is a distinctly different species that is commonly confused with other oaks.
Nuttall oak leaves are 4 to 7 inches long and deeply indented with between five and eight lobes. Each lobe sports several toothed points along its margin. The color of the leaves is dull green with a pale underside, turning red in the fall. The male flower of the Nuttall oack tree forms in long, drooping growths called catkins. They are yellow-green in color. The female flowers form as very small spikes were the leaves meet the branch. This tree produces acorns with a classic cap and nut appearance. The acorns are approximately 1 inch long and take two seasons to mature. The bark is gray brown and smooth when young, becoming rougher as the tree matures.
Nuttall oak trees have a moderate growth rate, frequently adding up to 2 feet of new growth per year. They range from the lower portions of northeastern United States, throughout the South, and up along the west coast into the Pacific Northwest. Nuttall oaks thrive in USDA hardiness zones 6B through 8. They produce few surface roots and can be planted more closely to sidewalks, pavements and buildings than some other oak tree varieties. Nuttall oaks are deciduous, dropping their leaves in fall.
Nuttall oak trees are medium to large trees that can grow up to 100 feet in height. The crown of the tree can spread to 80 feet and is rounded in shape with a moderate density and medium texture. The outline of the tree is fairly irregular. Nutall oaks usually grow from a single leader trunk with large branches spreading outward and upward.
A variety of soil conditions can be tolerated by Nuttall oak trees including clay, loamy and sandy soils. They prefer acidic and well-drained soils, but they can tolerate extended periods of flooding and are moderately drought tolerant. Full sun is best. Once established, these trees require little care or pruning. This variety of oak is less available in garden centers and nurseries than other more common varieties. Propagation of the Nuttall oak is accomplished primarily by seed.
The Nuttall oak is often used in residential plantings for shade and as a specimen tree in landscape settings. It can also be used in parks, to line parking lots, in median strips and along highways. It is particularly good for planting areas that are poorly drained. Nuttall oak is also an important species for wildlife management, due to its heavy acorn production, a valuable food source for squirrels, deer and other animals. The wood is commonly cut for lumber and is often sold as red oak.
Plant of the Week: Nuttall Oak
Nuttall oak is one of the most common oaks of the Arkansas lowlands and it makes an excellent landscape tree. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — We plant nerds pride ourselves in being able to identify things, but sometimes we get it wrong. Last year, I was called in to teach a woody plant ID class at the University of Arkansas, and in preparation for this, I started prowling around various commercial landscapes looking for specimen plants.
One especially nice collection of oaks was noted and I identified what I thought were five species. This year, the trees made acorns and I went back and learned there were six. A planting originally identified as all Shumard oak turned out to have Nuttall oak (Quercus texana) grouped on one end.
Nuttall oak is in the red oak tribe and one of the 40 plus kinds of native oaks found in Arkansas. It is a strong growing, unbranched tree with a pyramidal form while young that transitions into a round-headed tree 60 feet tall and about 45 feet wide with age.
Upper branches are ascending while lower limbs are held out vertically and don’t droop with age as seen in pin oak. It occurs in contiguous stands along the lower part of the Mississippi River basin from southern Illinois to East Texas and Alabama. In Arkansas it extends up the Arkansas River Valley to about Russellville. It grows in low bottomland situations, sometimes in fairly wet wintertime sites.
Leaves of Nuttall oak are usually 5 to 6 inches long with six to 11spine-tipped lobes and generally on the smaller end of the size scale when compared to look-alikes like Shumard oak and pin oak. To me, the leaves most closely resemble those of scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), a species native north of Arkansas.
New growth of Nuttall oak is often maroon in color. In fact own-rooted clonally propagated forms such as “Sangria” and “Arcade” are available in the nursery trade based on this characteristic. Each new leaf flush has maroon leaves that transition to green as the foliage matures over about a month. Fall color is usually maroon-red and occurs in mid November. Unlike the look-alike species, Nuttall oak usually drops its leaves in winter.
The identifying characteristic of this species is the acorn. It is a medium sized acorn about an inch long and .75 inch in diameter. The cap covers the basal 30 to 40 percent of the acorn whereas Shumard oak usually has a fatter acorn but the cap only covers the basal 15 percent of the nut. Pin oak, with its smaller acorn and very shallow cap and brownish striations on the side of the nut, is easiest to identify.
Nuttall oak leaves have the general appearance of several closely related oaks. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)
Nuttall oak was first identified as a distinct species in 1860 by Samuel B. Buckley (1809-1884), a man with wide interest in all aspects of the natural world. He was appointed assistant geologist and naturalist for the Texas Geological Survey, working under the supervision of Benjamin Shumard. Born in New York and with northern sympathies, he returned there during the Civil War but returned to Texas where he eventually became the state geologist. Two of the 200 new species of plants he named were Quercus texana and Q. shumardii, whom he astutely named after his boss.
But buried in the dusty files and with little in the way of herbarium documentation, the species got lost in the shuffle until the 1920s when E.J. Palmer (1829 – 1911), an English born botanist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture rediscovered it in east Arkansas. He named the species after another English botanist, Thomas Nuttall who was the first trained botanist in Arkansas who traveled up the Arkansas River in 1819. Finally in the 1980’s botanists began untangling the confusion over names and now the accepted name is Q. texana with Nuttall oak retained as the common name.
Nurserymen too have re-evaluated the lineup of oaks they grow and Nuttall oak has become the favorite for growers in the southern states. They report it to be one of the fastest growing of the oaks while young, easily transplanted, tolerant of poorly drained soils and adaptable to a wide array of soil pH conditions. While Shumard oak shares many of these conditions, Nuttall oak has a less brooding presence in the landscape with its less coarse leaves.
The tree is well suited for use anywhere a large shade tree is needed. It can be grown in zones 5 through 9.
For more information about horticulture, or to see other Plant of the Week columns, visit extension’s website, www.arhomeandgarden.org/plant_week.htm ,or contact your county extension agent.
The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.