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What is a Good Fast Growing Shade Tree for Austin and Central Texas? – Red Oak

by Keith Brown
September 1, 2009

What is the best fast growing shade tree to plant in Austin? Here is my answer: red oak. There are several factors that must be considered, and there are special precautions you need to take. No tree is fool proof.

Red oaks grow fast to provide shade quickly, plus they are long lived and hardy.  Here is a red oak 6 years after planting

Red oaks grow fast to provide shade quickly, plus they are long lived and hardy. Here is a red oak 6 years after planting



The general trade off for fast growing trees is that they are shorter lived and require more maintenance, but you get shade faster. And, typically, slower growing trees live longer and tend to require less maintenance in a typical urban landscape. The red oak is a good balance. This tree has a rapid growth rate, 3-4 feet per year, and has a solid wood you would expect from an oak which makes them less prone to limb failure during storms. The norm for fast growing trees is that they have weak wood that require regular canopy thinning to reduce the likelihood of limb failure. Red oaks require very minimal pruning throughout their life, comparatively.

You do need to pay special attention to red oaks during the first few years after planting your new red oak. These trees are especially susceptible to transplant shock. Keep in mind that they have spent the first few years of their life in a tree farm that has maintained perfect growing conditions to grow trees fast. So your tree has just been relocated from a tree utopia to the virtual desert that is your yard. It is important to water and fertilize your tree properly during the first 1-3 years (read our fertilizer blogs).

Get past the first few years and you will have a fast growing shade tree that will grace your neighborhood for 75 years or more. In as little as 6 years you will have a tree that really looks like a tree, not just a stick in your yard.

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  • ltgolding says:

    You recommend Red Oak as the best fast growing shade tree for Austin. I thought it was highly suseptible to Oak Wilt due to its production of fungal mats and harboring the beetle that spreads the disease>

    • Keith says:

      Red oaks are the only variety of oaks that can produce the fungal mat, however, that occurrence is VERY rare. You are more likely to be struck by lightening three times in a row on clear day than to have that happen. The vast majority of oak wilt spreads underground through interconnected root systems. Also, I don’t like making decisions of what trees to plant based on one fairly uncommon tree disease. Red oaks are great trees for the area and oak wilt is not even in the top 10 most prevalent tree disorders I run into. There are many more other problems that are more likely to make your tree planting go bad. Focusing on oak wilt is the wrong focus.

      • Jan Peterson says:

        We moved to our area a year ago and have a lot of dead trees. The leaves don’t look like Oak Wilt and the bark splits off the trees like we’ve heard drought affects the trees. Would you still suggest Shumard Oak with what I have mentioned. This was also a vacant house for several months.

  • Mark says:

    Which red oak would you be referring to? Is this the Shumard Oak or the Texas Red Oak? Any big difference between the two?

    • Tim says:

      I believe the tree that the author is referring to is the Northern Red oak, which is a great tree. But for Texas you would probably be better off with the Shumard Oak, since it appears to be a little more drought tolerant than the Northern Red oak.

    • Keith says:

      There is very little difference between the varieties of red oaks, visually. Shumard or southern red are probably the best bets.

  • Tim says:

    I have to disagree with your theory that the Red Oak is the best shade tree for Austin, TX. The Shumard oak (which technically is part of the Red Oak family) would be a much better choice.
    But my pick would either be the Chinkapin Oak or the Chinese Pistache (‘Keith Davey’ cultivar only.) These two trees are both listed as Texas Superstars for their proven performance in the harshest climates of Texas.
    http://texassuperstar.com/plants/index.html

    • Keith says:

      I don’t really think of the Chinese Pistache in the same light that I do oaks and other large hardwoods. In Austin, pistache typically don’t get bigger than about 25′ tall and don’t live much longer than 30 years or so. I LOVE chinquapins. However, I always tag on the disclaimer that they are not native to the Austin area and they have only been popular for about 10 years or so. They have not yet passed the test of time. Same thing for the Monterrey oaks. I also like Mexican sycamore, bur oak, cedar elms, Arizona cypress…

      • Mark says:

        Any idea where I can see mature sized Chikapins in Austin? Yeah, most of the ones I have seen in the area are relevantly small. I most see Cedars, Pecans, Live Oaks, Bradfords, Red Oaks, Southen Magnolias, and Catalpa trees (I think thats the name it has white flowers and heart shaped leaves) in Austin mature size

  • Justine Andrus. says:

    I would like to plant a Southern red. Oak in my yard. What is the best size to start ? What time of the year should I plant? I live in Baytown, TX. Thanks for the information,

    • Keith says:

      Fall/winter is best time to plant. Size of tree is in direct relation to your patients and budget. Assuming everything is done correctly, size is not much of a survivability factor. However, I prefer balled and but lapped trees over container grown; b-n-b is generally not available in small trees.

  • Monica Benton says:

    We had a beautiful Post Oak in the back yard of our 50+ year old home here in Houston that came tumbling down in December ! We would like to replace it with either 2 more ornamental trees that still provide shade (Japanese Blueberry ?) or 1 large tree. This tree is to be planted next to our pool so no dropping leaves of any kind or roots that can be destructive either !! Any suggestions ???

    • Keith says:

      Houston is so different than Austin I really hesitate to make a recommendation. For large trees that are “less” messy, I like cedar elms.

    • JJ says:

      I live in West Tx. (Abilene) and we planted a Shumard Red Oak about 4yrs ago and I’ve read that this is suppose to be a fast growing tree. I dont see much difference in it now than 4 yrs ago. Any information / suggestions that I can do to help it?

  • Don Gentry says:

    My red oak seems to have holes in it (beetles) and the leaves are yellowish-green. Is this fatal?

  • Lisa Waddington says:

    I bought a property out on canyon lake. There is a lot of cedar and a few spindly oak trees on the empty lot next to mine. The previous owners cleared every single tree from my property and planted a single crepe myrtle which is nearly as tall as the house and has white blooms. I desperately need shade. I was going to purchase large trees (spend a little more, have them professionally planted) in the 10-15 foot range (3 year olds?). Would pecan be a good choice? I have seen other pecan’s out in the hill country, but not sure if they would survive the northwest side of Canyon lake. Advice on shading my new lake house (also my residence).