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Oaks for Utah

by Michael Kuhns, Extension Forestry Specialist

Oak in parkstrip

Oaks are the royalty of the tree world, and for good reason. Their wood is strong and durable, their wide, spreading crowns provide a stately elegance in the landscape, and they are tough and long lived. Utah has few oaks, however, both because there are few (only three) native oaks in the state and because too many people, when planting trees, opt for fast growth over quality. Remember, people who plant willows and cottonwoods do it for themselves; people who plant oaks do it for themselves and their children.

Oaks in general are intolerant of shade and tolerant of moderate to severe drought and heat. Some are quite tolerant of high soil pH and other adverse soil conditions common in Utah, though this varies widely. Crown forms vary from shrubby/clumpy to tall and wide-spreading to very narrow and upright. It should be easy to find an oak to fit almost any planting situation in Utah.

Three oaks are native to Utah and all are more or less shrubby. The largest and most common oak in Utah and throughout the Rocky Mountains is Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), also known as scrub oak. This large shrub to medium-sized tree is native to fairly dry lower mountain slopes (USDA hardiness zones 4-8). It grows in clumps, forming dense, pure stands that present a fire hazard as fuel accumulates. It can be successfully managed or planted in cultivated landscapes.

The other two native oaks, shrub live oak (Quercus turbinella) and wavyleaf oak (Quercus undulata), are small evergreen shrubs that are only native to the warmer portions of southern Utah; they will not be discussed further here.

Planting of many non-native oaks in cultivated landscapes in Utah is very appropriate, since oaks are not weedy and many are appropriate for our climate. There is not room for detail on all the oaks suitable for planting in Utah, but the list below includes many of the good ones with cultivar names if available and USDA hardiness zones.

Species Cultivars (characteristics) Hardiness Zones
bur or mossycup oak (Quercus macrocarpa) no cultivars available zones 2-8
chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) no cultivars available zones 4-7
English oak (Quercus robur)

'Atropurpurea' (purple leaves)

'Fastigiata' (upright, narrow)

'Pendula' (weeping form)

'Westminster Globe' (large, round)

zones 4-8
northern red oak (Quercus rubra) 'Aurea' (new leaves yellow, becoming green) zones 4-8
sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima) 'Gobbler' (abundant acorns) zones 5-9
shingle or laurel oak (Quercus imbricaria) no cultivars available zones 4-8
Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) no cultivars available zones 5-9
swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) no cultivars available zones 3-8
turkey oak (Quercus cerris) 'Argenteo-variegata' (white blotches on leaf edges) zones 5-7
white oak (Quercus alba) no cultivars available zones 3-9