When it comes to big, beautiful, long-lived shade trees, our North American native oaks and their cultivars are hard to beat. Tough and adaptable as well as beautiful, they thrive under a wide variety of growing conditions. Of the large-canopy trees, our oaks are among the most resilient and adaptable to urban growing conditions across a wide swath of climate zones.
Although many oaks have a reputation for growing slowly, well-grown nursery trees such as ours adapt well to urban growing conditions. Our nursery practices include undercutting the roots of young seedlings, transplanting, staking and careful structural pruning. Each of these steps contribute to their future survivability on the streets and in commercial and residential landscapes.
Our nursery currently grows 20 North American native oaks, described in our online tree guide and our downloadable Reference Guide. Among them are Bur and Swamp White Oaks and their cultivars, recognized as two of the most adaptable and best suited for urban planting. Our breeding, selection and introduction efforts over the past several decades have added a number of “street smart” oak cultivars to the tree planter’s palette. Described below, they offer the best characteristics of their species plus predictable form, appearance and resistance to diseases such as anthracnose and mildew.
Found throughout the Midwest and much of Canada, this large and impressive native tree grows from Manitoba to Texas and is therefore adaptable to many sites and varied growing conditions. Leaves have an intriguing shape, similar to an English Oak leaf near the petiole, then fanning out at mid-leaf to what may be the biggest oak leaf of all. In summer, the dark green leaf surfaces contrast with the lighter undersides to create a shimmering effect. Fall color is yellow to yellow brown.
Probably the hardiest among the oak species, Bur Oak is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and tolerates city conditions more readily than other oaks. It is also extremely tolerant of heat and drought. Bur Oak adapts to varied soils including dry sandy soils, clay soils, and alkaline soils. Its majestic, broad canopy with thick trunk and stout, storm-resistant branches cast welcome shade for parks, campuses, boulevards and open spaces.
Urban Pinnacle® Oak
Quercus macrocarpa ‘JFS-KW3’ PP 22815
A bur oak like no other, the unusually narrow and upright form of this unique cultivar makes it a clear choice for landscape settings that call for a large shade tree with a slender profile. Petite acorns, about ½” in diameter, are extremely small for a bur oak, adding to its suitability for landscape and street use. Attractive, dark green, glossy foliage is resistant to both mildew and anthracnose. Handsome yellow fall color adds seasonal appeal to this hardy and adaptable tree that is rated hardy through USDA Zone 3.
Quercus macrocarpa ‘JFS-KW14’
This traditional form of bur oak is notable for its corky bark and valued for its predictable mature form, size and performance. Bur oak’s typically rugged form, combined with unusually corky branches, gives it an “ancient tree” look at a young age. Additional features include handsome, dark green foliage that is resistant to mildew and anthracnose. Tolerant of drought, heat and cold (Zone 3), it grows to about 55’ in height with a spread of about 45’. Fall color is yellow.
Swamp White Oak
Don’t be fooled by its name. While it is well adapted to poorly drained sites, Swamp White Oak handles drought equally well. Though in the wild it is found most often in low lying, moist bottomlands, it is adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. Its lustrous dark green leaves have wavy margins. Fall color ranges from yellow brown to reddish tones. Its sweet acorns are favored by wildlife and can also be eaten fresh, without leaching or roasting, by humans. Its canopy is rounded and open, with a mature height and spread of about 45 feet. (Zone 4). Its two cultivars, described below, offer the additional benefits of predictable form and performance.
American Dream® Oak
Quercus bicolor ‘JFS-KW12’ P.P. 23632
This fast-growing cultivar offers the drought and heat resistance of the species, as well as the ability to thrive on poorly drained sites. It also demonstrates good resistance to anthracnose and mildew – diseases often exhibited by seedling-grown trees. Its large, lustrous, deep green leaves are thick and glossy, with wavy margins. After turning buttery yellow in autumn, they turn to rich tawny brown and remain on the tree late into the season.
Growers who value ease of pruning, and the beauty of consistent form as they look down a row of these trees, appreciate the upright branch angles and strong central leader that help to develop a broadly pyramidal canopy of good density. Landscape designers, city foresters and gardeners appreciate its uniform canopy, improved disease resistance and predictable performance.
Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’
Tightly columnar and urban adaptable, this columnar oak adds a new dimension to the Swamp White Oak species, which is a time-tested, versatile, top-performing urban tree. Discovered by Dr. Michael Dirr, its stout upright branch structure and dense green foliage form a leafy narrow column as it grows to about 40 feet in height with a spread of about 15’ feet. Zone 4 hardiness and adaptability to compacted and alkaline soils make it an exciting addition to the palette of urban adaptable trees. Its slender canopy is a great fit for tight urban spaces.