Pin or Red. . . which is the best Oak?

jlaitarFebruary 11, 2013

I was considering planting an oak at my lakehouse in Michigan this spring and I wanted to pick all your brains as to which one I should. The growing zone is 5b/6a, and the soil is slightly acidic. I know that white oaks and burr oaks are very nice trees, however I would like a faster growing oak, where it might make it to 30 feet tall in 20 years. I know that both Red Oaks and Pin Oaks are two of the faster growing oaks, with space not being an issue, any thoughts/opinions on which one I should plant? Does either one do better planted in rows or in a group of three or four? Thanks Jeff

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Probably red oak will be better for you in Michigan. When doing well it shoots out long branches and produces an open, eventually monumental habit, very wide-spreading with full sun exposure. You would try pin oak instead if you would rather have a more dense, conical tree. It does not work well where overhead clearance is desired, should instead be planted where it can sweep down to the ground, like an effectively placed and maintained conifer.

This post was edited by bboy on Mon, Feb 11, 13 at 14:32

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 2:31PM
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A white or bur oak in a good location will grow as fast as any oak.

Fastest oak for you might be Chestnut Oak. Shumard is pretty quick too. It's splitting hairs though, a healthy oak tree with good soil moisture will grow fast. Scarlet Oak is another nice one....

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 10:13PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i planted 40 bare root 6 to 8 foot oaks .. red.. black. .. shingle.. white ... scarlet ... in adrian MI ... in 2000 ... most are over 25 feet now ...

after a a year or two of getting 'established'.. during which time.. i insured PROPER WATER weekly.. meaning i checked once a week and watered when they needed it ..... they were all growing 3 to 5 feet per year ...

my biggest concern.. is that it is your lakehouse.. and watering might not be perfect ... so it might take them a bit longer to perform to specs .... mulch PROPERLY.. and heavily.. subject to your soil type ....


    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 7:49AM
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I agree that the white oak, Burr oak, and especially Chestnut oak can grow pretty fast. In my yard Nuttalls oak is really fast and has great structure. Chestnut oak produces seed early, which can be good or bad, it's up to you. Red oak may take a while to get the wide-spreading graceful habit. If you want a fast growing oak with wide spreading structure in youth, my Nuttalls oaks, I have 4 or 5. It's dark out now or I would go count. They are impressive IMHO.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 1:19AM
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A piciture of a young Nuttalls oak in my yard, this one holds on to reddish color in fall and spring a bit longer than most but the shape is the same.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 1:27AM
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Here are a couple more pics of another Nuttalls oak, by the way, they can adapt to wet soil as long as it isn't year long. In growing season it's best to be a bit drier than the dormant season.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 1:33AM
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I didn't realize that oaks all grow at similar growth rates as long as the growing conditions were good. You read most of the tree guides and they say that the red oak has a rapid growth rate, and a white oak has a slow growth rate; so one would assume that the red oak grows 3 feet plus a year, and a white oak less than a foot.

My lakehouse has soil that's fairly sandy, slightly acidic, and because of the lake, as the water table 24 to 36 inches down, so once the tap roots grows down to the water line, it'll have unlimited water.

If I knew that, I might have planted an oak by the lake, other than the Elm that I did. My Elm has grown 3 or 4 feet a year since I planted it in the spring of 2007 and is starting to become a decent sized tree.

Maybe Ken is on to something about Oaks being far superior trees!


    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:43PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Did you pick Pin and Red (Quercus rubra) just because of growth rate and red fall color? If so I don't recommend either.

I prefer either Quercus ellipsoidalis or Quercus coccinea. There is a new(er) intro of ellipsoidalis that is supposed to have better branching that may be of interest. Since I have a neutral soil I'm limited to ellipsoidalis. Speaking of which I have 1 gallon coccinea that needs a home.

Keep in mind if you have a stand of oaks (from the red oak family) nearby I wouldn't plant anymore than one specimen from that family. At that point you are at a higher risk and then when one goes they'll all go since it spreads through root and/or beetle.

Would be cool to diversify one from the red oak family along with the other suggestions mentioned.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 2:23PM
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Be mindful that some oaks, like Nuttall & Swamp White Oak, tend to lose their leaves in winter, and some, like Shumard, tend to retain a lot of the dead leaves through much of winter. Some people prefer one look or the other.

Since Scarlet Oak was mentioned, isn't that one for somewhat drier areas? What would it do with his high water table (if I understood correctly)?


    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 6:31PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

well yeah???..

i prefer coccinea also.. but didnt talk about it.. cuz you ruled it out ...

and i would have tagged one last fall .. and picked one with deep burgundy color .... i have about 5 of these... a little slower than the others ... but 3 are sublime color.. and 3 are not ... sublime.. though location could be the issue ...

peeps get a bit confused about oak.. IMHO... its hard to 'see' a growth rate on a 75 foot tall tree ... not many peeps hang around young ones.. and really pay attention to how fast they grow.. once they get over transplant shock ...

and i dont buy this taproot carp .... thats not really how trees grow ... no matter what they say ... if you buy a larger tree.. that was field grown.. and dug.. the tap root will be ruined.. and will not replicate itself ... or so i believe ... [lets see who argues over that.. lol] ....

if you ever saw a tree fall over.. with its roots sticking up 90 degrees... the whole root mass seems to be no more than a foot or 3 deep ... see link ...

regardless.. it will find and enjoy the available water ...

best advice: buy a small one.. 3 to 5 foot.. plant in spring.. and choose one in fall to insure color ... same size ... two oaks and an elm ... [just in case the elm dies.. lol] ... go small twice.. for less than one larger ....


Here is a link that might be useful: i dont see a single taproot ...

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 7:00PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

To second what Ken said, oak taproots don't last forever. Over the years, as the tree matures, the taproot is replaced with a system of laterals. I've got an old, rotting white oak to prove it.

I actually kind of like trees like Beech and White Oak that hold onto their leaves in the winter - Gives a bit of interest, with wind rattling the dry leaves.

I actually like Chinkapin oak - Gets quite gnarled and picturesque with age.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 9:20PM
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If you have a shallow water table try Swamp white oak (Quercus Bicolor) Swamp chestnut oak (Quercus Michauxii) Overcup oak (Quercus Lyrata) Those are white oaks. Red oaks are Quercus nuttalli or Nuttalls oak, (Quercus Shumardi) Shumards oak. If your soil doesn't remain too moist, I guess any oak is okay.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 2:15AM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Below's a Chinkapin oak in the Hagerstown City Park. There's one in the park that's much bigger than this one:

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 12:30PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

There's a chinkapin oak along our property line that is nearly that big - Less lower branches, though. They really don't have much autumn coloration, though - Sort of a mocha brown.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 6:34AM
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I know it's a little late but I thought I'd let you know my pin oak has put on 4 feet and 3 inches already this year of new growth. I am simply amazed at the growth rate of this tree. I don't live next to water nor have we got a lot of rain here in northern Ohio. I think it has to do with how cool we are staying this summer (low 80s) with no extreme heat. I will be planting three more of these trees this fall.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 8:16AM
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The original question about red and pin, the 2 have really different shapes, I love both, but, just think the Pin tends to have those drooping branches, even when limbed up, some need cut off after they die out. The Red may look better when older, not to say the Pin gets ugly. If you want massive horizontal branches on a red family oak, choose Red oak. But don't count out the White oak family. But Seriously Red oak live a long time, and do usually slightly outgrow a White oak, in speed, not size, besides upland Chestnut oak, they grow super fast, that is Quercus Prinus/Montana, not the Water Chestnut oak.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:27PM
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Personally, I have gotten sick of pin oaks in NE Ohio. They have apparently been the best selling oak species in recent history and I see a ton of 40-50 year old specimens in old neighborhoods and corporate parks around here.

All oaks are great, but pin is at the bottom of my list. They just lack the classic oak form. The down-swept branches are one thing - you either have the obstruction of the low branches or you have a heavily pruned tree that looks awkward. But they also tend to have smaller, denser branching that is not typical of higher-character oaks. If pins were less common, I'd probably like them more. Also, the chlorosis problem with pins is a crap-shoot. I've seen struggling trees situated right next to vigorous ones.

Just in the reds alone, nuttalli, shumardii, scarlet, and Northern Red are all more attractive options IMO. And they all grow pretty fast. But the whites are under-planted compared to the reds in the Great Lakes region. Swamp white, chestnut, burr, shingle, chinkapin, and willow oak are all more attractive forms of oak than the pin in my opinion. Most of the white-group oaks you see planted in yards around here are varieties of English oak, which are decent but not great. Wish more homeowners and businesses tried the native whites. Thankfully, I am starting to see more options in the garden centers just pop up over the last couple years.

This post was edited by Hamburglar1 on Sat, Nov 15, 14 at 23:57

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 11:53PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Hamburglar, I think people assume the white oaks are slow growing. While N. Red and Pin are probably *slightly* faster, and definitely easier to transplant, there are several different methods of root pruning that can ensure a decent, transplantable root system on any oak, and as others have said, the growth rates are not that different, really.

The reds have their merits - especially Scarlet and Nuttall in fall, and a well grown Northern Red oak or Shumard is majestic, but my favorites overall are the whites, the whites generally are just healthier looking to me overall.

Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) in particular, even without the chlorosis issues (our soils are pretty acid here so usually not a problem) are just sickly, and seem the most prone to the various foliar diseases as well as bacterial leaf scorch (and oak wilt farther west). The reds as a whole seem somewhat more susceptible, but pin is the worst. Northern Pin (Q. ellipsoidalis), which actually is more closely related to Q. coccinea and Q. velutina than palustris, appears to have healthier foliage, as does Scarlet Oak (but some Scarlets can get blighty looking leaves, too).

Both Q. palustris and Q. coccinea are commonly planted as street or parking lot trees here, along with Quercus phellos, the willow oak. Generally, the phellos and coccinea trees have less dieback/decline as they age than the palustris trees do.

If you like the idea of pin oak, Nuttall is a good substitute - better (more reliable) fall color, no downward branches to slice you when you mow the lawn, but similar fast growth rate and overall form. More pH tolerant too, I believe (but I could be wrong about that).

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 4:12PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I don't know that it's really important to this discussion, but I am always a little befuzzled at why people make grossly generalized statements like:

"...oak taproots don't last forever. Over the years, as the tree matures, the taproot is replaced with a system of laterals."

While it's true that the taproot is far less predominate as most oak trees age, the taproot doesn't usually just vanish or rot away. Different oaks vary in how their root system develops, but, in general, the taproot is a (relatively short) central hub from which some of the first-order lateral roots emerge. The taproot doesn't go away, but is just overtaken and becomes less predominate with age. Most mature oaks who's root system is exposed and that do not suffer from butt rot, have identifiable taproots. Some have rather large and pronounced taproots. Even oaks who's taproots are severed at an early age, often develop replacement roots similar to, and in some cases indistinguishable from, a normal taproot.

Here is a link that might be useful: a decent description typical to many oaks

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 9:04PM
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I planted a four foot English oak (quercus robur) as a street tree in March. The first growth flush was 6 inches and the second was 3 1/2 feet! Not bad for one year. I planted a six foot red oak in the opposite corner the same day and it didn't grow at all. Go figure.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 11:31PM
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If autumn color is important, IME pin oaks don't get much, so I prefer the northern red, scarlet, and white oaks which seem to develop better color.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 7:12PM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Just me, but the form of pin oak is unique & I had to plant at least one. The pin oak that poaky showed on the fall-color thread was quite handsome. There aren't any others near me, so no pin oak "overload".

    Bookmark   November 20, 2014 at 9:23AM
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Nothing wrong with planting a pin oak, especially if there are not many in the area. They do have a tidy, bottlebrush look in the landscape, particularly early in life. Some people like the leaf retention in winter too. Birds probably appreciate the cover.

Regarding growth on the whites, I have a swamp white and a swamp white / English hybrid upright. Both are super vigorous. One of my neighbors has a bur and it is growing at a nice clip too. Cannot imagine excluding due to perceived growth rate.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2014 at 4:05PM
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If you like having your eyes gouged out by downward growing branches, plant a pin oak

    Bookmark   December 12, 2014 at 6:34PM
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I have a Pin Oak (did not plant it), but you would have to be a giant to have an eye poked out by it!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2014 at 7:00PM
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Edit: duplicate post???

Anyways, they are notorious for downward growing branches until they are over 30' tall or growing in a shaded situation which is a significant portion of time.

This post was edited by j0nd03 on Sat, Dec 13, 14 at 9:11

    Bookmark   December 13, 2014 at 9:09AM
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Well, If I had room for only one, I guess the Q. Rubra N. Red oak would be it. The branches will get thicker and not slope down. If you have room the Pin oak has great fall color for me as Beng has mentioned. The Nuttall's is a red oak family oak, and mine have still got their leaves on them although they are brownish red, I'm happy with them. I know fall color is nice to have, and is the reason some add certain trees to their yard, but, I have to say, I have a Quercus Velutina with great form, and it got kinda orange for a while this fall, one over the mountains had yellow fall color, but, the form of the tree was perfect, even if mine never has much fall color, I just love it's form, and can't wait for it to mature. I can't help but think that starting an oak from an acorn puts the tree at an advantage. I know they grow laterals etc. I know that they do, but, Dax sent me an acorn for a Burr oak, and I direct sowed the acorn, and I have seen articles saying Burr oak sometimes have taproots that go down 7 feet sometimes. Okay, whatever, maybe this one hasn't got a taproot that deep, but, I do know that, if there is a drought that lasts a while, I do not have to baby that seedling, and that Burr seedling doesn't have to take a year or 2 to replace roots instead of putting out growth. If I can choose, I'll choose direct sowing seed. I am going to direct sow Hickory seeds after seeing a post on here where the kid is holding a Hickory in a very long pot, and the taproot is longer than the pot. I am sure the trees will be okay in a rootmaker pot etc. But, I would rather keep that taproot in situ if I am not moving the seedling anyhoo, ya know? I am not knocking the way some peeps do it, but my choice is direct sow. There are situations it must be done in pots. Poaky1

    Bookmark   December 14, 2014 at 6:58PM
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