How to Grow and Care for Shingle Oak Trees

Shingle Oak

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The Shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) is a medium-sized oak found mainly in the Midwest of the United States. You won’t often see the shingle oak used horticulturally other than as a street or shade tree. Like all trees in the genus Quercus, it is a precious ecological food source for birds and other wildlife and a host for numerous moths and butterflies.

Its common name comes from its Midwest history as it was seen as a perfect tree for west-bound settlers to use to make shingles as they pushed west across the plains. One other interesting feature to note is the shingle oaks distinctly un-oak like leaves. Compared to other oaks, the shingle oak’s leaves have an appearance that lacks lobes and looks more akin to a laurel leaf.

If you’re looking for a shade tree with the ecological importance of oak but a different look, then the shingle oak may be a great option.

Botanical Name Quercus imbricaria
Common Name Shingle Oak
Plant Type  Deciduous Tree
Mature Size 40 to 60 ft. wide, 40 to 60 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Hummus loams with good drainage
Soil pH Neutral to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time April
Flower Color Yellowish-green
Hardiness Zones 4-8, USA
Native Area  Central United States

Shingle Oak Care

Caring for the shingle oak is relatively straightforward and easy, especially if you live in an area where it is a native. Like most trees, a good start early in life will help ensure it grows up healthy and robust and lead you to avoid some hurdles that can lead to expense and property later in the tree’s life. Knowing where to plant your tree is vital to its success.

Light

Like all oak species, the shingle oak demands full sun in order to thrive. It will tolerate part shade, but as always, consider the natural setting of the tree. Oaks are canopy trees and often do not compete with sunlight, so they are used to getting plenty. Placement is important, now and the future. Oaks do not transplant well, so planting it in the right place now and considering where you might consider putting that new garage that creates shade four years from now is essential.  

Soil

Though it will grow in a large variety of soils, the shingle oak prefers humusy, rich, and well-draining soil. If your soil is lacking, on planting your tree, you should amend it with a good amount of compost in the hole you are planting it in. To improve drainage, mix in some perlite with the compost. Doing this will help the soil conditions for the first few years, and the perlite will lessen soil compaction and increase soil aeration. Eventually as the tree matures it will grow into the soil of the site and adapt to the soil conditions that are present.

One very important note, never add soil on top of a shingle oaks roots. As little as one inch of fill dirt can kill your fully mature tree.

Water

The water needs of the shingle oak depend on its age. A newly planted tree will require watering for the first season to guarantee that it thrives and truly establishes a sound root system. You will want to give your newly planted tree 2 to 3 gallons of water per inch of its trunk diameter. (Following this standard is a great rule to follow for any newly planted tree.) After the first year, supplemental watering can be stopped.

Temperature and Humidity

Shingle oaks are incredible hardy trees able to sustain themselves through nasty midwestern winters and scorching summers. They are drought tolerant once they mature, and are not prone to wind damage. Like many oaks, you will notice that even though it is deciduous long after the beautiful fall colors fade and its foliage dies, it will hold on to its leaves, even through mighty wintery gusts. The shingle oak thrives in USDA zones 4-8.

Fertilizer

Your shingle oak should not need any supplemental fertilizer when it is mature; mixing compost into the soil during planting should have given it all the nutrients it needed to become established and develop a strong root system. If your tree seems to be growing a little slow and you want to give it a boost, use a slow-release fertilizer with an NPK formulation of 12-6-6.

Pruning

As your shingle oak grows, you will want to realize that it is time to stop doing the work yourself and hire a licensed arborist. It will quickly outgrow you and require special tools to prune and trim. Initially, while you are still able to prune the tree, you should prune your oak so it has a single vertical leader or main trunk. You will also want to prune as many interior branches away to prevent deep “Y” or “V” crotches or limbs from forming.