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Do Oak Trees Grow in Colorado? Which Are The Best Varieties?


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Colorado lacks the giant oaks of the Eastern and Western Coasts.

The only oak native to CO is the Gambel Oak which is small and bushier than what comes to many people’s minds when they think of mighty oak trees.

The Gambel Oak thrives in the Rocky Mountains in areas with harsh winters and dry summers. The small size of the Gambel Oak which is only a fraction of its larger relatives allows it to grow in the fire-prone foothills.

However, other kinds of oaks are suitable for cultivation in other parts of this extensive state.

Check your planting and hardiness zone for Colorado before planting anything to ensure you are choosing the most suitable tree for your area.

9 Oak Trees To Plant In Colorado

1. Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii)

Gambel Oak
Image by Matt Lavin via Flickr

The Gambel Oak is found in the Rocky Mountains and is particularly abundant in the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a small rounded tree or clump shrub with dark green leaves on the upper side, paler on the underside, and turns red in the fall.

Deer and livestock browse the leaves of the Gambel Oak, whilst wild turkeys, squirrels, and other small mammals eat the sweet acorns.The Gambel Oak favors dry rocky slopes at high elevations. It’s a slow-growing species that can be trained as a tree by removing the suckers.

Other Common Names: Scrub Oak, Gambel’s Oak, Rocky Mountain White Oak, Utah White Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 10-30 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: March to April

2. Wavyleaf Oak (Quercus x undulata)

Wavyleaf Oak (Quercus x undulata)
Image by Katja Schulz via Flickr

The Wavyleaf Oak is native to the Southern Rocky Mountains and thrives in dry areas above 4,000 ft but can be found as high as 10,000 ft in some areas. The Wavyleaf Oak is a natural hybrid between Gambel Oak and Shrub Live oak (Q. turbinella). They typically have broad green leaves that measure between 1 and 3 inches in length.

Because of the hybridizing, the leaves either have deep,shallow, or no lobes. The acorns produced by Wavyleaf Oaks have become a favorite food source for mule deers, elk, and bighorn sheep.

Porcupines and rabbits also feast on the inner bark, whilst the inner leaves provide sanctuary for many different kinds of birds.

The Wavyleaf Oak will grow on sandstone soils and dry rock stones.

Other Common Names: Few-lobed Oak, Chestnut Leaf Oak, Persian Oak, Chestnut-leaved Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 5-10 ft tall and 5-10 ft wide

Flowering Season: May/June/July

3. Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Bur Oak
Image by Matt Lavin via Flickr

The Bur Oak is a hardy and adaptable tree that can manage a range of different moisture and soil conditions so can handle urban environments.

The leaves are alternate, 6-12 inches long, with 5-9 lobes separated halfway down with deep sinuses. The acorns are slightly larger than most other oaks, with a fringed cap that covers half the length of the nut.

The Bur Oak grows in a rounded shape and is the favored food of wood ducks, white-tailed deer, turkeys, mice, rabbits, squirrels, and other animals. When planted in full sun, it provides dense shade and has a slow-growth rate.

Other Common Names: Burr Oak, Mossycup Oak, Scrub Oak, Blue Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 70-80 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April-June

4. Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

Chinkapin Oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Chinkapin Oak is a medium to large size oak with a rounded form that produces a stately specimen once mature. It features oblong to oblong lanceolate leaves that are dark-yellowish green, 4-6 ½ inches long and coarsely toothed. Fall colors are brown, orange-brown and yellow.

The Chinkapin Oak adapts to many soil conditions such as acidic, alkaline, moist, sandy and well-drained, wet and clay soils. Whilst it tolerates some drought, it does best in areas that don’t experience severe drought.

The acorns are 1” and rounded, and are produced and mature in the first year. They are a food source for turkeys, black bears, white-tailed deer, grouse, squirrel and chipmunks.

Other Common Names: Chinquapin Oak, Yellow Chestnut Oak

Growing Zones: 4-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40–50 ft tall and 50–60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – June

5. English Oak (Quercus robur)

English Oak
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The English Oak is a long-lived tree with a broadly-rounded spreading habit and short trunk. It can provide a striking specimen tree or looks good in groups in large open spaces.

The leaves of the English Oak are serrated like most oaks and are about 5” in length. The acorns are about 1” long and can take 20 years to make their first appearance.

The English Oak is commonly found in large parks due to its broad crown and low branches. However, it can be planted in the home setting provided you have the space. It’s suited to a variety of soil conditions, including wet and dry clays.

Other Common Names: Truffle Oak, Pedunculate Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 50-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April/May

6. Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolo
Image by Justin Meissen via Flickr

The Swamp Oak, as the name suggests, grows low-lying swamp habitats such as riverbanks and bottomlands. It’s a highly adaptable tree that can even tolerate drought, compacted soil and urban environments. The Swamp Oak has a moderate growth-rate and can be grown as a shade tree in CO.

The Swamp Oak grows best in acidic, moist, well-drained soils. The dark green leaves are 3-7” long, are deciduous with a leathery feel to them. The acorns appear in pairs and are approximately 1” long. The Swamp Oak grows in a rounded shape and attracts a variety of different birds.

Other Common Names: Swamp White Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 50-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

7. Texas Red Oak (Quercus buckleyi)

Texas Red Oak
Image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr

The Texas Red Oak is a small to medium-sized tree with a dark smooth bark on young trees, furrowed into ridges on the lower trunk and older branches. The leaves are alternate, obovate or elliptical and are deeply divided with 5-9 lobes with bristle-tipped teeth.

They are pale/glossy green above, and coppery green below, and turn brown/red in the fall. In the wild, their habitat is restricted to limestone ridges, creek bottoms and slopes.

The acorns of the Texas Red Oak have are egg-shaped and have a small cap. They mature in the second year. The Texas Red Oak has separate male and female catkins on the same tree. The striped acorns ripen 18 months after pollination.

Other Common Names: Buckley’s Oak

Growing Zones: 8-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 50-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

8. Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)

Shumard Oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Shumard Oak is a fast-growing tree that’s adaptable to urban environments. It features deciduous leaves that are 4-8” long and deeply lobed with bristles on the tips of some of the lobes.

In the fall, the leaves provide a dramatic show, with shades of red and orange. The acorns are 1” long and are enclosed by a saucer-like cup and are produced every 2-4 years.

The Shumard Oak grows in a rounded shape and produces green or yellow catkins in the spring. The acorns are favored by deer and squirrels as well as various small mammals are birds. Plant in well-drained, loamy, acidic or alkaline soils.

Other Common Names: Spotted Oak, Shumard Red Oak, Schneck Oak, Swamp Red Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

9. White Oak (Quercus alba)

White Oak (Quercus alba)
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The White Oak is an imposing deciduous tree with a wide-spreading crown and often several spreading horizontal branches. The bark is light gray and forms scaly ridges or plates.

The leaves are petiole and 1” long and are obovate to elliptical. They have 5-9 lobes that are widest beyond the middle. They are shiny or dullish gray/green above and light green below.

Catkins appear with or just before the leaves, which turn burgundy in the fall. The acorns of the White Oak are favored by birds, squirrels and deer.

The White Oak favors deep, well-drained sands and loams that are acid-based. Due to its large size it won’t be suited to all but the biggest of yards.

Other Common Names: Northern White Oak, Eastern White Oak, Stave Oak, Ridge White Oak, Forked-Leaf White Oak

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 70-100 ft tall and 60-80 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Steady As An Oak

Oaks are symbols of strength and longevity, and fit into the mountainous landscape of CO beautifully.

Whilst there is only one oak native to the state of Colorado, there are plenty of options to choose from if you want to plant one in your home, regardless of where you are in the state.

We did an article about all the different types of oak trees that grow all around the United States which we recommend you to read.

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