The pin oak is probably the most widely planted America oak species. (Richie Steffen)

The pin oak is probably the most widely planted America oak species. (Richie Steffen)

Great Plant Pick: Quercus palustris, pin oak

This native of central to eastern United States is perhaps the most widely planted America oak tree.

What: Quercus palustris, commonly called pin oak, is a very tough, easy-to-grow tree that demands little except enough space to spread. It’s best suited to the larger garden, as this oak will eventually become quite sizable. In youth, it grows quickly with a strong central leader. Its upper branches reach upward, the middle branches are fairly horizontal and the lower branches arch downward. If those lower branches are removed, the next set lower to fill their place, so pin oak doesn’t make a good street tree nor should it be planted near pathways or parking areas. From a distance, pin oak’s silhouette is pleasing, both in winter, when its smooth, gray-brown bark is revealed, and in summer with its deeply cut, pointed, dark-green leaves. Eventually it develops a more rounded crown, but this may take many decades. Unlike many other plants, pin oak tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, meaning that it will thrive where many other trees perish. It produces small, squat acorns and its autumn leaves change to bright red then bronze-brown. The fall color appears to last a long time because the leaf-color change is so gradual.

Where: This oak prefers an open area with full sun and plenty of room to grow. Plant it in a location with well-drained soil, although it will tolerate sandy sites and clay, if the drainage is adequate.

Size: The semi-evergreen grows to be 70 feet tall and 40 feet wide when mature.

Care: Once established, this tree it is drought tolerant, although in prolonged dry weather it appreciates an occasional watering. Little pruning is needed other than removing dead, broken or poorly formed limbs.

— Richie Steffen

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