How to Grow and Care for Scarlet Oak Tree

Scarlet oak tree with dark colored trunk and branches with scarlet-colored leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave

The scarlet oak tree provides sun-dappled shade and is known for its magnificent fall foliage color. The tree needs full sun and plenty of room to grow. It's a large tree that reaches 60 to 80 feet high with a 40- to 50-foot spread. This fast-growing tree is popular in the more eastern and central parts of the United States, from New York down to Georgia and across to Missouri and Michigan. Oaks are not always the easiest of trees to plant, but the scarlet oak is considered versatile because it can thrive in less-than-ideal acidic, dry soil, as well as tolerating alkaline soil. It grows best in an optimum temperature range from 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and can withstand temperatures as low as -28 degrees Fahrenheit to a high of 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Name  Scarlet oak, black oak, red oak, Spanish oak
Botanical Name Quercus coccinea
Family Fagaceae
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 50-70 ft. tall, 40-50 ft. wide 
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Hardiness Zones 4-9 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Scarlet Oak Care

Here are the main care requirements for growing a scarlet oak tree.

  • Plant in full sun.
  • Choose a permanent home when planting scarlet oak because it grows a deep taproot and is a very poor candidate for transplanting.
  • Dig a wide hole, not a deep one. Dig a hole twice as wide as your scarlet oak tree's roots are deep.
  • Mulch with organic mulch 2 to 3 inches high, but do not let it touch the trunk.
  • Fertilization and excess watering are not necessary for scarlet oak trees.
Scarlet oak tree branch with green c-shaped lobed leaves hanging

The Spruce / K. Dave

Scarlet oak tree branch with scarlet and orange lobed leaves closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Scarlet oak tree with thin and dark colored trunk with scarlet-colored leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave


Provide your scarlet oak with plenty of sun for it to thrive and offer the best fall color.


Plant your tree in dry, well-drained soil that is preferably acidic.


Medium water is all that is required to keep the scarlet oak happy. It is drought-tolerant once established. 

Temperature and Humidity

A scarlet oak grows best in zones 4 through 9. It does not do well in extreme dry heat.


Resist the urge to fertilize your scarlet oak; it is not necessary. 


Never prune an oak tree in the summer months. It's best to prune an oak tree when it is dormant so you can avoid the onset of oak wilt disease. To prune an oak so that it can have more air circulation, use disinfected pruners to remove dead, diseased, weak, or damaged branches that feel brittle, have wounds, or are discolored. Also remove crossed limbs and shoots that are growing straight up or down. Prune up to 1/3 of old wood each season.

Propagating Scarlet Oak Tree

Though it's slow, the most common way to propagate an oak tree is by using an acorn, which is essentially the tree's seed encased in a very tough shell. Acorns don't typically turn into oak trees because once they fall from the tree, they are scooped up by wildlife or they lay under the tree without enough sun or nutrients to help them grow. Here's what to do after you've gathered a batch of acorns late in the season:

  1. Take the caps off of the acorns.
  2. See which acorns are viable by putting them in a bowl of water for five minutes. Discard floating acorns (they are not viable).
  3. Now you can stratify your acorns, which means you are simulating a cold condition to trick the acorns (seeds) into germination. Dry off the saved acorns, and put them in a plastic baggie filled with damp vermiculiteperlite, peat, or sawdust. Seal the bag.
  4. Put the bag in the refrigerator for 45 to 60 days. During that time, look for germination of the acorns to begin.
  5. Put the germinated acorn in a small pot with good potting soil and keep moist.
  6. Keep the pot in a spot that is warm enough, but not too hot, with direct sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon.
  7. When the seedling is about a foot or so high, it can be transplanted into a permanent full sun spot in your yard.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Oaks are susceptible to several pests, including leafeaters, cankerworm, forest tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, borers, and a host of other pests.

Oak wilt, a fungus disease, can cause problems with scarlet oak trees. Trees infected with oak wilt cannot be saved. Cankers can also form on scarlet oak trees. Fungal diseases can also cause heart rot.

Common Problems With Scarlet Oak Tree

Oak trees are usually unaffected by problems, except when it comes to growing in the wrong type of soil (alkaline) and suffering from the ubiquitous disease, oak wilt. Here's what to look for:

Yellowing Leaves

Chlorosis of leaves is a sign the tree is not doing well because of alkaline soil. It's best to amend the soil, specifically treating it with sulfur to make the soil more acidic.

Browning Leaves

Leaves that are brown at the outer edges but still somewhat green in the middle may mean the tree is suffering from a fungal disease known as oak wilt. During the spring and summer, the leaves usually wilt and fall off as a result of oak wilt. Sap beetles are known to spread this disease through the tree's wounds. It's impossible to save a tree infected with the disease. Prevention is best, which is why it is not advisable to prune trees between April and August when sap beetles can enter fresh wounds.

  • Is scarlet oak a good tree?

    Scarlet oak is a great tree for your yard or street thanks to its fast growth, light shade, and extraordinary autumn color. The tree's acorns are also food for wildlife, like squirrels, chipmunks, mice, wild turkeys, deer, and birds.

  • How fast do scarlet oak trees grow?

    A scarlet oak tree can grow between 1 to 2 feet a year.

  • Is scarlet oak the same as red oak?

    Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) and red oak (Quercus rubra) are often mistaken for each other. They are both considered some of the prettiest oak trees thanks to their vibrant red foliage. They have very subtle differences in their leaves, bark, and acorns (scarlet oak acorns are larger than red oak acorns).

Article Sources
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  1. Scarlet Oak. College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Kentucky.

  2. Scarlet oak. United States Department of Agriculture.