Bur Oak or Red Oak?

eugliaApril 29, 2008

I am trying to decide between these two trees. I'm not sure what all the differences are. I know the Red Oak would probably be better for fall color but there seems to be a lot of information I've looked up that prefers the Bur Oak, I'm not sure why though. Any help would be very much appreciated!

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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Both are good choices. I think red oak is a better looking tree but it's a matter of taste. Pick one that appeals the most to your eye....

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 9:18PM
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OK, I'll present the counterpoint to Lou's red oak recommendation.
I think the bur oak is a better looking tree, but that's my personal preference.
In my plantings, bur oaks - particularly those from the southern and western portions of its range(my first ones originated from mid-MO, where I first fell in love with them) are fast-growing - 2+ ft per year - during their first 20 years or so, but they have the potential to still be there 200, 400 years from now.
They have the largest leaves & acorns of the north American oaks, thick corky bark even on 1-yr twigs, ornate frilly caps on their low-tannin acorns, and their winter silhouette is the quintessential 'spooky old tree'.
No, they don't have much in the way of fall color - but neither do Q.rubra here - and the other 50 weeks out of the year, they're pretty nice - with or without leaves.
All in all, a superb 'shade tree', and I doubt you'll be disappointed with whichever species you choose.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 10:23PM
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Down here, people call q. Shumardi "red oak". It makes a nice tree, better looking in my mind than bur oak. Tends to have fairly good fall color.
Bur Oak's weakness are large ugly leaves, very large acorns, and no fall color. It's strengths are a vigoruous root system and endurance of drought, alkaline-adaptable, climate adaptable, etc.
Both are good dependable trees. Bur Oak is tougher/Shumard looks better.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 9:08AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if fall color is very important ...

choose and buy the tree in fall after it changes color .... which is a great time to transplant trees ... to insure that the color you want.. is the color you get ....

species trees are nut grown.. and can vary extremely .. based on the genetics ... one would think they would be all the same... but they arent ... especially when it comes to color change ....

i like oak .. any oak is great .... in my area ... shingle oaks are superb ... and i cant think of the latin name right now..

good luck


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 10:05AM
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I'd go with Bur Oak, it is the longer-lived.

Shingle Oak = Quercus imbricaria.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 11:32AM
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radagast(US east coast)

Bur Oaks are not as "good looking" in the common sense: neat and tidy with colorful fall leaves, but they are big, tought, and long-lived. Almost any oak tree is good, but Bur Oaks are some of the best.

That being said, they have one drawback - the acorns are BIG - we're talking golfball size! So, keep that in mind when deciding if you want to plant one.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 12:16PM
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I made this decision myself last fall. Here are some of the things that went into my choice. The bur oak tends to be more sparcly branched for a very shapley winter picture. The burr also tends to be wider. Wildlife likes the very large acorns of the burr. Red oak tends to br more upright and grow a bit faster. Acorns are medium sized. I went with the red oak for its more narrow shape.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 1:13PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Or you can do what I did.... Plant both. LOL.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 2:22PM
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Does the leaf lenght of Bur oaks depend upon provenance, or does it have to do more with growing conditions and age?


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 5:21PM
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"Does the leaf lenght of Bur oaks depend upon provenance, or does it have to do more with growing conditions and age?"

Both, Osprey, with provenance being a bit more important. But you're correct in thinking growing conditions play a role, with wetter growing seasons usually resulting in larger leaves for most broadleaved trees.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 8:00PM
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Thanks as usual +oM.. now, which may be a good source for long leaves?


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 8:06PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Hmm there is N. Red Oak, Southern Red Oak...and I guess Shumard Oak. I am assuming you want N. Red Oak? They are great trees, and lose their leaves quickly in the fall. They also have good sized acorns as well and very strong wood.

Do Bur oaks keep their leaves on the tree in the fall...especially if they are young...like other white oaks?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 12:02AM
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Yes, it would be N. Red Oak.
Now I'm wondering do they tend to grow in a different shape? Does the Bur Oak grow in a more unexpected and gnarled fashion than a red oak?
Also does a Red Oak grow a lot faster than a Bur Oak or are they about the same?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 12:10PM
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I would also look around the neighborhood and see what's growing. If there is a monoculture of red oaks, then the Bur oak would be a better choice (and vice-versa).

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 2:07PM
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radagast(US east coast)

alabamatreehugger has a very good point - try not to join in a monoculture planting of one tree type. If you have room, plant one of each!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 12:23PM
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Around here, N. red oak is the fastest growing oak. I "think" that it would generally outgrow bur oak. But......your location is a long way from "around here" and that could mean very different results. As to growth form, I think bur tends a bit more towards gnarly, unusual patterns, but overall, a site in the open lead to the development of a lower crown with lots of large lower limbs. This can, of course, be controlled to a degree by pruning. It just depends on what outcome you're after.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 6:12PM
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The burr oaks in the upper midwest I know grow pretty slowly; the red oaks, relatively quickly.

I think the sight conditions might influence the descision a bit also. I think of red oaks as more of a forest tree, doing well with companionship and a rich soil. Burr seem more solitary, preferring lots of sun and tolerant of poorer soil.

It's good to remember there are lots of other oak species. I probably would plant the best looking oak I could find locally.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 9:05AM
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A few months ago I bought about twenty Burr oak acorns on ebay. I am pleased to say eight have come up so far.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 9:58PM
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kman04(z6 KS)

I think both Oaks have their own good merits. I think Bur Oak tends to be more favored in some of the threads, for several reasons. One, it's just about one of the toughest, most adaptable, long lived, strong wooded Oak species out there. Two, it tends to have very large lush looking leaves, even in the harshest times of year and difficult planting situations. The leaves also tend to be a very nice rich dark green on top. Three, it's large ornamental fringed cap acorns, which only a couple of Oaks in Mexico can boast as having larger acorns in the entire world. Four, they do tend to have neat, very unique winter silhouettes. Five, it tends to be much less planted and much less appreciated throughout the country when compared to several other Oak species.

In regards to which Oak grows faster, I'd say when young both Bur Oak(at least all the ones I've grown, which originate in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas) and Northern Red Oak grow quite rapidly. I'd say over the first 20 years or so, my Bur Oaks have grown between 2' and 3' per year compared to Northern Red Oak which has grown between 2' to 4' per year for me. So, I'd say that the average Northern Red Oak for me has grown about 6" a year more than Bur Oak, so not a lot more. On dry sights, I'd say Bur Oak grows a bit faster than Northern Red Oak. Both trees slow down quite a bit after they reach a certain age and size though.

You really can't go too wrong with either tree in my opinion. Bur Oak can live as long as 500 years or maybe even more if lucky, while Northern Red Oak might live as long as 250 to 300 years if lucky and healthy. Both trees tend to grow much more upright than wide at first(first 10 to 12 years or so), with Bur Oak broadening it's growth sooner than Northern Red Oak and eventually becoming almost as wide as tall, while Northern Red Oak isn't as broad growing with age.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 2:42AM
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If you want to plant an oak, why not plant the best--eastern white oak, "Quercus alba." This is in my humble opinion, very likely the finest shade tree in the world. Very, very long lived, wonderful growth form, very durable, very beautiful foliage, wonderful fall color in some years/locations/soils. One problem is that they are difficult to find in any local nursery, but they can be had on-line. They are slower growing than some oaks, but in the time it takes for a red oak to get to 50 feet, the white oak will be 35 or 40 feet--and more beautiful!


    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 10:26AM
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Good commentary, Spruce, regarding white oak. Another fine one is swamp white oak. In my area, these tend to grow quite fast. When young, they also hang onto their leaves through much of the winter. Some consider that a drawback-I don't know why-but I quite like the effect. And while the fall color is easily eclipsed by other genera of trees, the tanish colored leaves are quite beautiful in their own right, especially against the whites and grays of winter.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 3:33PM
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Me being from northern Minnesota, it would be hard for me to recommend bur oak for a shade tree.. because they grow about 8-12" per year here compared to around 2 feet for the northern reds... also, the northern red oaks have a beautiful maroon fall color and don't look quite as "spooky" during the winter.

At the same time, the bur oak will far outlive even your grandchildren and they are 2nd to none for wildlife interest. The birds, squirrels, and other critters love their large, relatively tasty acorns and their strong branches make a good hiding place for any neighborhood cat.

I planted 20 oaks on my property last fall, 15 of them bur oak and 5 red oak, because we have very sandy soil... but I'd go for the red if you're just planting one.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 5:18PM
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Provenance(site of origin) can be quite critical in its effect on growth rate, at least for bur oak. I have bur oak seedlings from acorns collected or sent from friends in 15+ US states and two Canadian provinces.
Those from northerly climes(WI, ID, IA, Manitoba, Ontario, etc.) are much slower-growing - and acorns are much, much smaller, than are those from more southern/western regions of its range. Seedlings from OK, TX, AL, KY, MO, etc., have typically grown 2+ ft per year, and acorns in the range of 6-10/lb(with caps removed) are not unusual.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 2:14PM
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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

I know of a local guy here in Delaware, OH who says his local provenance Burs grow pretty fast (2-4'/yr), so although OH is the eastern part of the Bur's range, the genetics is probably more like the "southern" strain than the "Northern" strain of the Upper Midwest.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 12:24AM
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beng(z6 western MD)

"Kreider" burr oak is as fast as a N Red oak. More handsome foliage, IMO -- leaves have silvery undersides like Swamp white oak. A squirrel even braved my open lawn (despite my cats) to get at the acorns.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:01AM
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I vote Burr Oak....considering your location and potential for long droughts I would go with this tree. These trees are as tough as nails and do well in just about any situation. If you give it the right light and soil conditions it will thrive. It also lives much longer on average than a red oak.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 11:14AM
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If I had to chose red or Burr I would pick Burr. All my Q. Rubra are not growing wide. They may once more mature, but not yet. My Burr oak is lacking the "corky growth" I've heard about though. Dax gave me some Burr oak acorns, I have planted a couple and will be planting the rest soon, so I may be seeing a slightly different form of Burr oak if the acorns show the more Corky Burr oak seedlings.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 3:09AM
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I grew both trees from seed about 4 yrs ago. Transplanted them out 3 yrs. ago. The Bur has been very consistent in growth each year. The Red Oak did almost nothing for 2 years and took off last year. Last year the Bur grew 20", the Red Oak (Shumard)grew 30". Expect the Red Oak to bypass the Bur Oak this year. The Bur Oak is almost twice the diameter of the Red. Believe the Bur is the better choice for drier/harsher/windy areas.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 10:31AM
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Bur Oak has been rather slow growing for me, about 12-18 inches per year (less than "12 the first two years). These are from huge acorns collected at Auburn.

Surprisingly, Q.alba has been faster growing at around 24-30 inches per year.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 4:48PM
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