Oak trees epitomize the perfect shade tree,with interesting leaves and a lovely form. While slow growing, they may live for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, most varieties reach 80 to 100 feet, or more, making them a poor choice for urban landscapes. When selecting oaks, consider their growing needs, as well as their mature size. Many oaks, such as pin oak, suffer from chlorosis when planted in alkaline soils, according to Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens. For best results, consider species native to your area.
Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) tolerates dry, sandy soils and reaches 20 to 50 feet high. This tree has leathery leaves that grow to 7 inches long and have an unusual triangular shape. The leaves are broadest at the tips. Blackjack oaks often have a contorted shape, resembling a shrub, according to the South Carolina Forestry Commission.
The dwarf chinkapin (Quercus prinoides) has elongated, oval leaves, with coarse teeth. This tree resembles a chestnut tree more than an oak, and grows well in alkaline, dry soils. It rarely grows more than 10 to 12 feet high, so consider it a shrub, advises Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens.
Turkey oak (Quercus laevis) grows 20 to 40 feet high and has an open form and twisted branches. Also known as "scrub oak," it resembles a shrub and produces three-lobed leaves that resemble the foot of a turkey. The leaves have bristles on the ends and are 4 to 8 inches long. Note that the South Carolina Forestry Commission describes the turkey oak as spreading through underground runners.
Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) grows wild throughout much of the Rocky Mountain region and tolerates the dry, alkaline soils found there. The tree grows 20 to 30 feet high, though it often remains smaller and shrub-like. Gambel oak is a long-lived tree that spreads through underground runners. The leaves are deeply lobed and grow 5 inches long, according to Utah State University Extension.
- Iowa State University Reiman Gardens: Iowa's Oaks
- Utah State University Extension: Gambel Oak Care
- South Carolina Forestry Commission: What Tree is This?
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Selecting Landscape Plants: Shade Trees
- North Carolina State University Extension: Recommended Trees for Urban Landscaping