Northern Red Oak

Exploring Ash Tree Alternatives – Oaks

As ash tree removals continue in our neighborhoods due to emerald ash borer infestation, many folks are reflecting on what should be planted to replace them. The shade, form, and texture provided by these trees is hard to match in a literal way, but there are many amazing trees that we should consider as ash tree replacements. If you’re struggling with the decision, the great news is that you don’t have to pick just one favorite to replace your ash trees. In fact, if you’re replacing more than one tree, choosing a variety is the best call. Diversity in the landscape is one of the best ways to guard against massive pest and disease events like EAB infestation. Now is your chance to protect the future of your new trees! 

We’ll cover several of our favorite options over the next few posts, starting with the oaks:

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)

The fall color is one of our favorite things about the Northern red oak. A mature red oak all dressed up in full fall color is truly show stopping. The deeply lobed leaves are the quintessential oak leaf shape and they densely cover the branches. A nice upright rounded shape makes it a very handsome tree for the home landscape.

Moist, slightly acidic soil will yield absolute best performance, but red oaks are tolerant of different soil types. They’re also tolerant urban pollution, making them a great choice for a variety of planting sites.

Heritage oak (Quercus macrocarpa x robur)

This vigorous hybrid oak is a great choice for the home landscape. Its glossy dark green foliage decorates a broadly pyramidal form that is ideal as a street tree or a gorgeous front lawn tree. Yellow fall color lights up the landscape and provides beautiful contrast to the oranges and reds of fall. A cross between our native bur oak and English oak, this tree offers both cold hardiness and beauty. Does well in most average garden soils in full sun.

Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)

The swamp white oak has a broad majestic presence and like other oaks, it is long lived and makes a phenomenal shade tree. The species name “bicolor” is a reference to the lustrous green leaves that have white undersides that give them a two-toned appearance. For those that are tactile gardeners, the bottom of the leaves have a soft downy texture that is quite pleasant and helps distinguish this species from other oaks.

To encourage healthy, vigorous growth, plant the swamp white oak in moist soils on the acidic side. Although the swamp white oak will naturalize in moist lowlands, it will also perform well in uplands with rich soil. Just be sure to avoid calcareous soils.

Swamp White Oak

Oaks Rock The above are just three of our favorite oak varieties, and we have many more to choose from. No matter what variety you pick, planting an oak is a great decision in so many ways. Shade, beauty, long lifespan, wildlife support, and the variety of choices are just some of the reasons to choose oak trees for your landscape. To support these beautiful trees as they establish, it is critical to water them regularly, mulch and fertilize as needed, and provide protection from animal damage for several years. Oh, also, enjoy!