The Nuttall Oak

One of the most often-asked questions I get is, “What tree do you recommend for shade?”

I usually answer by first recommending the tree chapter in my book or my top dozen picks online. But you may not like what I like and vice versa. Some people like big-leafed trees, some people like small-leafed ones. Some desire a leaf that changes color in the fall. So, it’s a hard-to-answer question.

But I do have a personal favorite. (Drumroll, please …)

It’s the Nuttall oak! That’s because it meets the top three requirements for the best shade tree.

  1. It must grow fast
  2. It must provide ample shade
  3. It must be able to acclimate to our clay soils.

And the Nuttall oak has an extra side benefit: it offers a nice show of fall color, assuming Mother Nature provides cooler temperatures at just the right time.

That’s how I describe the Nuttall in my new book, New Decade Gardening, A Gulf Coast Guide.

The Nuttall, technically known as the Quercus nuttallii, has been my favorite for a long time. If there is ample space between the planting site and a house foundation, it’s great. If it has a downside, it would be its rather large leaves. They can be a pain in the backside if you have a nearby pool or are put off by raking leaves.

This close cousin of the Shumard red oak provides similar colors in the fall, and it definitely has its own personality. One difference is the size of the Nuttall’s acorn - they are larger than most oak nuts, and they have a unique striped look. Their fast growth is a huge selling point and, for me, so are the uncommon acorns. If you can’t stand acorns falling from a tree, this may not be your best choice.

In some circles, the Nuttall is known as a swamp red oak. And the Quercus texana is also referred to as a Nuttall - they are part of the same family. But I think the leafing of a true Q. nuttallii is much fuller, and that’s important to me. Because we are definitely looking for shade, right?