Pin Oak Growth Rate: Tips On Planting A Pin Oak Tree
By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
“Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut, that held its ground,” said author David Icke. Pin oak trees are mighty oaks that have held their ground as a fast growing, native shade tree in the eastern part of the United States for hundreds of years. Yes, that’s right, I did just use “fast growing” and “oak” in the same sentence. Not all oaks are as slow growing as we generally think they are. Continue reading to learn about pin oak growth rate and using pin oaks in landscapes.
Pin Oak Information
Native east of the Mississippi River and hardy in zones 4-8, Quercus palustris, or pin oak, is a large full, ovate shaped tree. With a growth rate of 24 inches (61 cm.) or more per year, it is one of the faster growing oak trees. Tolerant of wet soils, pin oak trees usually grow 60-80 feet (18.5 to 24.5 m.) high and 25-40 feet (7.5 to 12 m.) wide – though in the right soil conditions (moist, rich, acidic soil), pin oaks have been known to grow over 100 feet (30.5 m.) tall.
A member of the red oak family, pin oaks will not grow in areas of high elevation or on slopes. They are usually found in damp lowlands and near rivers, streams or lakes. Pin oak acorns are often dispersed far from the parent plant and germinated by spring flooding. These acorns, as well as the tree’s leaves, bark and flowers, are a valuable food source to squirrels, deer, rabbits and various game and songbirds.
Growing Pin Oaks in Landscapes
During the summer, pin oak trees have dark green, glossy leaves that turn a deep red to bronze color in the fall, and hang on throughout winter. The beautiful foliage hangs from thick, dense branches. Having a rather ovate shape that turns more pyramidal with age, pin oaks’ lower branches hang down, while the middle branches reach out horizontally and the upper branches grow upright. These pendulous lower branches can make pin oak a not-so-good choice for street trees or small yards.
What makes pin oak an excellent tree for large landscapes is its quick growth, beautiful fall color and winter interest. It also has the ability to provide dense shade, and its shallow fibrous roots make planting a pin oak tree easy. On young trees, the bark is smooth, with a red-gray color. As the tree ages, the bark becomes darker gray and deeply fissured.
Pin oaks can develop iron chlorosis if soil pH is too high or alkaline, which causes leaves to turn yellow and drop prematurely. To correct this, use acidic or iron rich soil amendments or tree fertilizers.
Other problems pin oaks can develop are:
- Bacterial leaf scorch
- Oak wilt
- Gypsy moth infestations
Call a professional arborist if you suspect any of these conditions with your pin oak.
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Read more about Oak Trees
Pin Oak - Quercus palustris
Beech Family (Fagaceae)
A recognizable trait of pin oak is that its lower branches hang down. It is one of the tallest trees in Kentucky, commonly reaching over 60 feet tall. The Champion tree is in Jefferson county near Louisville. It is more than 100 feet tall.
- Native habitat: Massachusetts to Delaware, west to Wisconsin and Arkansas.
- Growth habit: Strongly pyramidal, becoming oval-pyramidal with age.
- Tree size: 60 to 70 feet tall with a 25- to 40-foot spread. Pin oak can reach a height of more than 100 feet.
- Flower and fruit: Flowers are brown and not showy. Fruit is a nut, half an inch long and wide, light brown, enclosed at the base in a thin cap.
- Leaf: Alternate, simple, 3 to 6 inches long, with five to seven lobes and u-shaped sinuses. Leaves are glossy dark green in summer, becoming russet, bronze or red in fall. Some leaves persist into winter.
- Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 4.
- ‘Crown Right' or ‘Crownright' - Is more upright than the species, with branches at a 30- to 60-degree angle to the central leader.
- ‘Sovereign' - Has lower branches at a 90-degree angle to the central leader rather than weeping lower branches.
Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
Seed collection: Pin oak fruit is a nut commonly called an acorn. They form along the branches. Harvest the fruit in the fall after the acorn becomes brown or tan. Seeds can be collected after they fall to the ground. The cup is usually removed from the acorn prior to storage or germination. It is common to find weevils in acorns and they can destroy the ability of the seed to germinate. You can determine if the acorns have weevils by placing them in water. Acorns that float usually contain weevil damage and should be discarded. Only save the acorns that sink. They can be stored for short periods (
1 year) in air tight containers in the refrigerator if the seeds are not permitted to dry out.
Seed germination: Stratify seeds using moist chilling for 60 days to satisfy physiological dormancy. Following stratification, sow seeds in a nursery container to produce a seedling or sow them in a plastic container in the classroom to observe germination.
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Pin Oak Looking Yellow?
Pin oak trees can be a beautiful asset to the landscape. Their pyramidal form, pendulous lower branches and reddish or bronze fall color are striking. Unfortunately, most pin oaks planted in the Midwest are plagued by a yellowing of the leaves known as chlorosis. Other landscape plants are also susceptible to chlorosis, including rhododendrons, river birch, holly and sweet gum.
Chlorosis gets its name from the lack of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for healthy plants’ green color. When chlorophyll is not present, the resulting color is usually yellow. The major cause of chlorosis in landscape plants is a deficiency of either iron or manganese. Both are considered to be plant micronutrients, meaning they are needed in small quantities by plants.
Iron and manganese deficiencies usually are not caused by an actual lack of these nutrients in the soil, but by soil that is too alkaline. As soil pH becomes more alkaline, iron and manganese are chemically tied to the soil, making them unavailable for plant uptake.
Iron deficiency causes interveinal chlorosis — a yellowing of the tissue between the veins while the veins remain green. This striking contrast becomes apparent on the youngest foliage first. In extreme cases, the tissue may turn brown and plants may be stunted.
Manganese deficiency symptoms are similar to those of iron. Silver and red maples are especially sensitive to manganese deficiency. However, if manganese-deficient leaves are treated with iron, they become even more chlorotic.
Iron and manganese chlorosis can be corrected in several ways. For a long-lasting solution, make the soil more acidic to free up the existing nutrients. Small areas can be made more acidic by applying acidic organic matter, such as peat moss, to the soil. Larger areas are more feasibly treated with elemental sulfur, iron sulfate or aluminum sulfate to the soil. The amount needed depends on the size of the area, the current soil pH and soil type. These materials are relatively slow acting, and the soil will have a tendency to return to alkaline, so it can be a never-ending battle.
To bypass the problem of soil alkalinity, iron or manganese can be applied directly to the plant. The nutrients can be sprayed on the foliage, but such treatments generally give only temporary relief. And, of course. you’ll need sprayer equipment that can reach the entire plant.
Nutrients can be injected directly into the trunk of the tree. Injections are very effective, however they are expensive and create wounds that can provide entry for insect and disease organisms.
Adding nutrients to the soil near the plant is yet another option. Use specially formulated nutrients, known as chelates, to avoid the problem with soil alkalinity. These materials can be expensive and slow to work.
The best solution is to choose plants that are adapted to your location. Avoid chlorosis-prone plants if your soil is alkaline.
Insect Pests of Oak Trees
Oaks host the larvae for over 500 species of moths and butterflies in North America. The vast majority of these cause little visible damage to the tree. Most are so high in the canopy you would never know they are there. But these are also not the important pests we need to know about when caring for our oak trees.
I will show you some examples of the moth caterpillars that feed on oak leaves, but do not be alarmed by them. They are part of the ecosystem and are often snatched up by birds before they can become a big problem.
Kermes scale egg sac
But first lets look at a couple insects that may need treatment.
I have spent an exhaustive amount of time researching and learning about this destructive pest of the Red Oak Group. There is a rumor that it also feeds on bur oaks, but I think it is more likely another member of the scales.
Kermes scale is a destructive pest that girdles the branch tips of red oak (Q. rubra), pin oak (Q. palustris), black oak (Q. velutina), and other members of the Red Oak Group. If you see flagging or dead branch tips on your oak tree, this is the likely pest. Go to my post on Kermes scale for more information.
Oak Lace Bug
Lace bugs fall into the category of plant-sucking insects. These tiny insects suck the plant juices of the leaves of the oak trees. They can be very detrimental and weaken oak trees. You will see them mostly on the White Oak Group, mainly on bur oaks (Q. macrocarpa). They can be a problem here, because if bur oaks are weakened by these insects, it may lead to BOB (see above).
The treatment for these plant-sucking insects is the same treatment as for aphids or scale. Using a systemic insecticide such as imidicloprid will eliminate the problem of lace bug feeding. However, I would only recommend this treatment if the tree is already stressed from the weather or other factors.
Moths and Caterpillars
Like I said above, most of you will never know there are caterpillars feeding on the tree. You would have to inspect multiple leaves, and be up high in the canopy to see anything. The 3 species I am going to show you I found by doing extensive searching. I turn over leaves and look for things.
Scarlet oak sawfly is not a true caterpillar, but rather the larvae of a sawfly, which is related to wasps
American copper underwing moth caterpillar on the underside of Chinkapin oak
The variable oak leaf moth caterpillar
Clustered midrib gall (wasp)