In Watertown, New York, Urban Forestry Program Manager Mike DeMarco is a fan of shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria), which the city plants bare root, at small caliper (1.25 or 1.5 inch), in spring and fall. “I’m such a fan, I have to be careful not to over-use it—it’s performed so well for us,” he says.
DeMarco has been eschewing ubiquitous red oaks in favor of other oaks with good to excellent tolerance of the stresses of the urban environment, like shingle oak, swamp white oak (Q. bicolor), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa) and ‘Urban Pinnacle’ bur oak, Crimson Spire oak (a hybrid of Q. robur x Q. alba), and Regal Prince oak (a hybrid of Q. robur f. fastigiata and Q. bicolor).
Shingle oak has unlobed foliage, which makes it a novelty among oaks, and the handsome leaves are glossy and deep green. The wide-spreading branching habit is attractive, giving a pyramidal shape when young, to more rounded when mature.
Shingle oak is a better candidate for urban use than many oaks. It can grow in full sun or part shade (4 to 6 hours of sun daily); it tolerates salt, alkaline soil, wet sites and dry sites, including occasional drought; and it’s said to tolerate proximity to black walnuts with their allelopathic juglone. Shingle oaks performs well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. Depending on climate and other stressors, it can get to be 40 to 60 feet tall and wide.
DeMarco asked Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director Nina Bassuk for her take on shingle oak’s possible drawbacks–and advantages. She’s observed shingle oaks for many years in Ithaca’s urban forest and elsewhere. “This is a nice tree, although as it is in the red oak family, it is susceptible to oak wilt,” she says. (Pruning of shingle oak should be done only in the winter, when the beetles that carry oak wilt spores aren’t active.) Bassuk says, “There are numerous insect pests as well as anthracnose that can afflict this species, but in the Northeast, at least, I haven’t seen much damage from these.”
Bassuk continues, “We have many shingle oaks in Ithaca and they grow well in high pH soil up to pH 8.0. Shingle oak has a distinctly wide, horizontal branching habit and is magnificent when it grows to its full potential.”
Though it can withstand transplanting better than many of its oak cousins, shingle oak can be slow to recover and is a slow-growing tree overall. Bassuk and many other sources recommend planting shingle oak in spring only; but Watertown has being able to plant it successfully in fall as well. Readers are encouraged to send their notes on shingle oak transplanting to [email protected].
Shingle oak is recommended by the NYC Parks Approved Species List, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Approved Tree List, and the City of Chicago Urban Tree Planting List for both street tree and park use. Whether using it on the street or in a park, be sure the tree has adequate soil volume to thrive. 🌳