How to Choose the Right Oak Trees

Always let nature be your guide when choosing oaks. Pick oaks based on the type of soil you have and plant them according to the best location for each species.

Before I moved to San Antonio 31 years ago as the regional community forester for the Texas Forest Service (now Texas A&M Forest Service) I reviewed all my literature on forest communities in this part of Texas.

A large-growing oak for clay soils. Known for its gigantic acorns.

Do you know what I found in my books and school notes? This part of Texas is dominated by oak forest associations, many of which stretch from Northeast Texas to the Pacific coast.

Of course having said this, we’ve all heard about the dangers of oak wilt, which has killed hundreds of thousands of oaks over the past 50 years. Certain areas of the original “oak wilt triangle” — Bandera, Kerrville and Comfort — have lost more than 50 percent of the forest canopy.

Personally, I’ve never lost sleep over oak wilt because it’s so easy to prevent. Never prune in the spring or fall and always paint the cuts. Education can and has greatly reduced the spread of the disease. But the very best way to limit oak wilt yet continue planting the best species for the region is to diversify.

All oaks belong to three sub-families: red, white and live or willow.

  • Members of the red oak sub-family are the most susceptible to oak wilt. These include Texas red oak, blackjack oak, Shumard oak and water oak.
  • Members of the willow oak family include live (escarpment and coastal), willow and pin, and fall somewhere in-between.

Finally, allow me to give you some landscape and design tips. In areas of thin soil Texas red, Chinquapin, Lacey and shin oak are your best choices. In deep loam and clay soils, bur oak is definitely the primo species. For the opposite spectrum in sandy soils, post oak and blackjack are the choices. Monterrey and live oaks can be grown anywhere. Always be careful of Shumard oak, though, some individuals may grow here, others may not.

My advice is to go with Texas red oak. And, visit Garden Style SA to learn more about each species.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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