Texas Red Oak
Texas red oak fall color
Common Names: Red oak, Shumard Red oak, Shumard oak, Swamp Red oak, Spotted oak, Spanish oak, Texas red oak
Quercus shumardii or Q. buckleyi (texana)
KWER-kus shoe-MARD-ee, BUCK-lee-eye
Fagaceae (Beech Family or Black oak group)
Type: Deciduous shade tree
Height: 60 to 100 feet
Spread: 60 to 80 feet
Final Spacing: 50 feet
Habit: Red oak is a graceful, majestic, tall-growing to over 100 feet and wide- spreading shade tree with beautiful fall color and lovely deeply cut leaves. Fall color can range from yellowish-browns through yellows and reds to deep maroons. Typically has no central stem although I have seen some true Shumard red oaks with central stems. What’s referred to as Q. buckleyi is shorter - 35-70 feet.
Mature Shumard red oak starting its fall color
Flowers And Fruit: Male and female flowers (catkins) on the same plant (monoecious). Rust colored male flowers hang from terminal growth in the early spring and female flowers bloom singly or in small clusters. Fruits are medium to large acorns, generally ¾ to 1 inch long to ½ to 1 inch wide. They mature in the fall of the second season, singly or in pairs.
Red oak in bloom in the spring
Bark: Young trees have light to medium gray and very smooth bark. It darkens with age and develops a heavy texture.
Young Texas red oak in the fall
Foliage: Leaves are simple, alternate and deciduous with fall color ranging from yellows to reds and even deep maroons. The only way to be sure about the fall color is to buy plants in the fall to try to get the bright red colors. Even then the fall color will vary depending on the soil and weather conditions. Leaves are deeply and gracefully cut with pointed tips.
Red oak leaves can vary greatly. The 3 on the bottom right are definitely crossbreeds.
Culture: Shumard red oak grows in the eastern 1/3 of Texas and other similar areas in a wide range of soils from sandy to heavy clays to solid white rock outcropping areas. It adapts to most any soil that it well drained. Red oak is fast growing, especially for such a high quality tree, requires a minimum amount of fertilizer and moderate moisture. It is sometimes hard to establish from transplanting and can be easily over or under watered. It hates poor drainage and “wet feet”. Once established, it is an easy-to-maintain and drought tolerant tree. Propagation is done by planting the seeds (acorns) in the fall just after they have fallen from the trees. They can also be stored cool and dry to be planted in spring. Can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Zone 4.
One of the largest red oaks in Texas
Problems: Red oaks can’t stand wet feet. Poorly drained soil causes root disease, illness or death. Red oaks are highly susceptible to oak wilt. Occasionally red oaks are bothered by scale, borers and other insect pests but those are always a symptom and related to a bigger problem of an environmental nature. Oak sawflies are fairly common, annoying pests that attack and skeletonize the leaves. Its damage is normally isolated in spots no larger than basketballs. Fungal leaf spot is common in late summer but is more cosmetic than anything. Can be controlled by the Basic Organic Program and occasional spraying of Garrett Juice plus garlic. Even better is to apply the entire Sick Tree Treatment with the first and most important step being the exposure of the root flare. Another cause of problems is mistakenly buying pin oaks or crossbred trees. The spread of oak wilt disease in Central Texas can often be linked to the movement of firewood from infected red oaks. These trees produce "fungal mats" under the bark where certain insects feed; it is these insects that can infect new trees where the firewood has been moved.
Insight: Red oaks are magnificent and graceful trees. They have always been one of my favorites but they are the subject of a large, confusing tree problem. Buying the right plant is not always easy. There are 3 red oaks that are very similar and will all work in the alkaline soils, Quercus shumardii, Quercus texana and Quercus graciliformis, is the Chisos oak. Benny Simpson in his book A Field Guide to Texas Trees explains the difference in them best by saying that the Chisos oak grows primarily west of the Pecos, Texas red oak grows west and north of the Balcones Escarpment and the White Rock Escarpment just west of Dallas and the Shumard oak simply grows east of that line. However, it’s really not that simple. There are at least two other red oaks that add to the confusion. They are Canby oak and Evergreen oak and are arguably just other names for Chisos oaks.
Pin oak and other closely related trees such as southern red oak (Quercus falcatta) and northern red oak (Quercus rubra) cross breed readily with red oaks. If trees not adapted to alkaline soils dominate the blood of the offspring, these resulting trees, when growing in alkaline soil, will be sickly with nutrient deficiencies, appear chlorotic and can eventually die early. The northern red oak doesn’t do very well anywhere in Texas and similar areas. The southern red oak grows very well over in sandy, acid soils like those of east Texas and the same goes for pin oak. Some folks still recommend wrapping tree trunks with paper, gauze or other materials to allegedly protect the trees from various problems from sunburn to insect attack. Borers are warned about often. Wrapping tree trunks not only doesn’t help the tree, it actually encourages weak bark, disease and insect attack and of course wastes your money.
How To Identify Problematic, Crossbreed Trees
I don’t know how to prevent the crossbreeding but do have some tips to offer on how to identify the bad trees so they can be avoided. Pin oaks, (Quercus palustris) have very straight trunks, quite horizontal branching, pointed top and rubbery twigs that don’t snap easily when bent. The most telling characteristic is the presence of “pins” on the smaller branches. These are small pin-like twigs that are distinctive on the true pin oaks. Problem with this identification is the varying degree of pin oak traits in the crossbreed trees.
Some Red Oak Related Questions
QUESTION: The leaves on my red oak trees fell early. I noticed the same thing with other trees nearby. Is there an underlying problem, or was the tree man correct when he told me it was caused by heavy spring rains? D.C., Dallas
ANSWER: Many red oaks lost leaves early last fall. Heavy rains in the spring followed by intense heat and humidity caused it. Spraying the foliage next year with compost tea or Garrett Juice should help reduce leaf drop.
QUESTION: We planted a 5-gallon Shumard red oak about four years ago. It has grown very well without any problems. Recently, I noticed that the bark has been chipped away nearly all the way around the bottom of the tree. Upon inspection, I see that there are several joints where the bark is gone. What is happening to our tree and what should I do?
ANSWER: It looks like animal damage, which can cause severe injury to trees or shrubs. If the damage is all the way around the trunk, the chances are the tree will not survive. Apply the Tree Trunk Goop to the wound and to burlap wrapped around the wound. To prevent this problem in the future, increase the health of the soil and the tree by following an organic gardening program. A photo you sent indicates that this tree is planted at least 6 inches too deep. Its root flare should be exposed, and any circling and girdling roots should be removed.