How to Grow and Care for Chinkapin Oak

A Native Oak With Chestnut-Like Leaves

Chinkapin oak

Darrell Gulin / Getty Images

Upon a cursory look, chinkapin oak might look like a chestnut and not like an oak because the glossy, yellow-green leaves are smaller than those of most oaks, and they are coarsely toothed, bearing resemblance to chestnut leaves. This is what gave this native oak its name—chinkapin is a small native North American chestnut tree. 

Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) is not a very commonly grown landscape tree, which is a pity because it makes a beautiful shade tree. It can be grown in a wide climate range and in tough locations. In the wild, it grows on dry bluffs and limestone outcrops as well as ridge tops and rocky, south-facing slopes. 

When young, the tree has a pyramidal shape that becomes broader and more rounded as the tree matures. 

The sweet acorns provide a food source for wildlife such as squirrels, chipmunks, deer, turkey, and other birds. 

 Common name  Chinkapin oak, yellow chestnut oak
 Botanical Name  Quercus muehlenbergii
 Family  Fagaceae
 Plant Type  Tree
 Mature Size  50 to 80 ft. tall, 50 to 70 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure  Full sun
 Soil Type   Loamy, sandy, clay, silt, moist but well-drained
 Soil pH   Acidic (6.5) to alkaline (above 7.0)
 Bloom Time  Spring
 Flower Color  Inconspicuous
 Hardiness Zones 3-9, USA
 Native Area  North America

Chinkapin Oak Care 

Chinkakpin oak is a low-maintenance tree; the only finicky part is to transplant it successfully. The tree has a deep root system with a taproot and when it’s sold as a balled and burlapped tree at a nursery, a significant portion of the root system might be missing. When buying a chinkapin oak, inquire whether it as has been root-pruned, which gives the tree a much better chance of survival.

While it can be grown on very dry, poor soils, chinkapin oak takes a more shrubby appearance in these tough locations.

Leaves of a chinkapin oak sapling
Leaves of a chinkapin oak sapling

epantha / Getty Image

Light

Chinkapin oak needs full sun, at least 6 hours direct sunlight per day.

Soil

The tree can be grown in all types of soil, but it prefers well-drained soil, and a pH from weakly acid to alkaline. 

Water

Like all newly planted trees, in the absence of rain, a young newly transplanted chinkapin oak needs to be watered at least weekly during the first growing season. Established chinkapin oak tolerates dry soil and does not need watering except in an extended drought.

Temperature and Humidity

The native habitat of of the tree is a large geographical area as far north as New England and as far south as northeastern Mexico. It is highly adaptable to a a wide range of climate conditions and can grow both in locations with subzero winters as well as in hot, humid climates.

Fertilizer

Chinkapin oak can grow even in poor soils and needs no fertilization.

Types of Chinkapin Oak

There are no cultivars of chinkapin oak, but there is dwarf chinkapin oak or dwarf chestnut oak, also a native. It that can be grown as a large shrub or small tree that reaches 12 to 25 ft. in height and 12 to 25 ft. in width. It is a a different species (Quercus prinoides) whose growing conditions are very similar to chinkapin oak, and with a similar leaf and fall color.

Pruning

Except for removing crossing, broken or diseased branches, the tree does not require pruning. Only prune while the tree is dormant and not during the growing season, as it stresses the tree and makes it more susceptible to oak wilt.

Chinkapin oak acorns
Chinkapin oak acorns

Dan Mullen / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How to Grow Chinkapin Oak From Seed

To successfully grow chinkapin oak from acorns, collect them immediately after they dropped. Place them in a bowl of cold water; viable seeds will sink to the bottom while those with low viability will float. Discard those and plant the viable acorns right away to achieve optimum germination rate. If you store the acorns over the winter, the germination rate can drop from over 90 precent to less than 50 percent.

Plant the acorns sideways 3/4 to 1 inch deep in pots first or directly in their permanent location. Water them with at least 1 inch of water every week if it doesn’t rain. Cover the soil with 2 to 3 inches of mulch or straw, which will help suppress weeds and protect the seedlings against frost heave. The acorns will soon start germinating, then growth will stop during cold weather and restart in the spring. Be very careful when pulling weeds so that you don’t uproot the tender seedlings.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases 

As a native tree, chinkapin oak is relatively resistant to insects and diseases. But when the tree is under stress, such as from too much or too little water, soggy or compacted soil, or road salt, it can be affected by disease. One of the most damaging is the fungus oak wilt, which kills the tree within two to three years. Other diseases include cankers, shoestring root rot, anthracnose, and leaf blister.

An infestation with gypsy moth and orange-striped oakworm, and the variable oakleaf caterpillar can defoliate the tree.

FAQ
  • How fast does chinkpin oak grow?

    This tree has a slow to moderate growth rate, ranging from less than 12 to 24 inches per year, and its growth rate slows down with age.

  • What’s the fall color of chinkapin oak?

    In the fall, the foliage color ranges from yellow to orange-brown or bronze.

  • Is chinkapin oak a messy tree?

    In the spring the tree sheds its catkins, and in the fall it drops its leaves and acorns, which provide food for wildlife. The trees produce a large amount of seeds (acorns) every two or more years, alternating with years of little or no acorn production.

  • Is chinkapin oak a white oak?

    Yes, it belongs to the white oak group, the Quercus subgenus Leucobalanus. Unlike most other white oak species, however, chinkapin oak grows in alkaline soil.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Oak wilt. Penn State Extension.