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6 Oak Trees in New Mexico You Can Grow or Admire

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Oak trees are mighty and majestic trees that look gorgeous in any landscape.

But when you think of New Mexico, you may not think of oak trees. In fact, there are several beautiful oak trees and shrubs native to NM and several others that will grow well there.

When you think of what an ecologically diverse state NM is, it is actually not surprising that so many different oaks grow there.

We will look at some of the different oak trees in New Mexico that you can grow or just admire, regardless of which New Mexico hardiness zone you are in.

6 Oak Trees That Grow Well in New Mexico

1. Gambel Oak – Quercus gambelii

Gambel Oak Tree and Leaf
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Gambel Oak is a beautiful deciduous shrub or tree native to New Mexico and the American Southwest.

It has the lovely classic lobed oak leaves that we all think of when we think of oaks.

The Gambel Oak grows amazingly well in the more challenging arid environments of NM. It is cold-hardy to USDA Zone 4 and is extremely drought-tolerant once established, requiring little to no water. It also tolerates partial shade and alkaline and Calcium Carbonate-rich soils.

Its mature height depends on water. In areas with little water, it grows as a smaller multi-stemmed shrub. Higher in the foothills, or when given a little irrigation, it can grow as a larger single or multi-trunked small to medium-sized tree.

Gambel Oak will not, however, tolerate wet soils, requiring adequate drainage and ventilation, which thankfully is not much of a problem in NM.

You can also learn how to identify Gambel Oak.

Other Common Names: Scrub Oak, Bush Oak, and White Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 ft (to 60 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers in March – April, acorns mature in autumn

2. Gray Oak – Quercus grisea

Gray Oak
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Gray Oaks are exceptionally long-lived shrubs or small trees native to NM, thriving in semi-arid climates with mild winters and hot summers.

They have unique leathery dull blue-green to gray-green leaves that are typically not lobed like classic oak leaves but may be toothed.

Gray Oak may remain semi-evergreen until spring or, in autumn, turn a gorgeous crimson-red, providing a lovely fall color display.

Like Gambel Oak, the size of Gray Oak is determined by the available moisture. For xeriscaping shrubs, simply stop watering early in the establishment phase. Or, if you want a small tree, give it a little irrigation during the dry season, and it will grow larger.

Best grown in full sun to partial shade in acidic to alkaline soils. Soils can be dry or moist but should be well-drained.

If you want to admire it in its native environment, you can learn to identify Gray Oak.

Other Common Names: Shin Oak, Scrub Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 35 ft tall, 5 – 30 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers in March to May, acorns in autumn

3. Scrub Live Oak – Quercus turbinella

Scrub Live Oak
Image by Kenraiz, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Scrub Live Oak is a drought-tolerant evergreen shrub native to NM, the American Southwest, and northern Mexico.

It thrives in desert mountains, making it a suitable choice for northern NM or the southern mountains.

It has gorgeous blue-gray-green leathery leaves with spiny-tipped shallow lobes or coarse teeth, making it a great accent or border shrub.

It is not as cold-hardy as some of the NM oaks, but as long as the summer is nice and hot, it will thrive down to USDA Zone 6.

Best grown in full sun in dry to moist, well-drained soils that are acidic to alkaline, and, once established, it is highly suitable for xeriscaping.

Unlike the Gambel and Gray Oaks, Scrub Live Oak will always remain as a shrub, regardless if irrigation is provided.

You can also learn how to identify Scrub Live Oak in the wild.

Other Common Names: Shrub Live Oak, Sonoran Shrub Oak, Turbinella Oak, Arizona Blue Shrub Oak, and Gray Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 15 ft (to 25 ft) tall, 6 – 15 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers in March – June, acorns mature in late summer

4. Mexican White Oak – Quercus polymorpha

Mexican White Oak Quercus_polymorpha
Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Mexican White Oak is a common tree native to southwest Texas, Mexico, and Central America.

It is widely grown as an ornamental tree for its incredibly fast growth, growing at an amazing rate of up to 4 ft per year if given a little irrigation. With its broad crown, this makes it a quick, fantastic choice as a shade tree in NM.

Mexican White Oak is not very cold-hardy, making it unsuitable for the most northern and mountainous portions of NM, but it thrives in the southern parts of the state, where its unlobed leaves may be nearly evergreen.

It is highly drought-tolerant once established and is suitable for xeriscaping, although if you are looking for rapid growth, a little irrigation is recommended.

Mexican White Oak is a tough and hardy tree that is highly resistant to oak wilt and other oak diseases and pests.

Learn how to identify the Mexican White Oak.

Other Common Names: Monterrey Oak, Netleaf White Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 65 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers in March to May; acorns mature in autumn

5. Chinkapin Oak – Quercus muehlenbergii

Chinkapin Oak Quercus_muehlenbergii
Image by Bruce Kirchoff, CC BY 2.0

Chinkapin Oak is an uncommon large native tree in NM, found naturally only in Lincoln and Eddy Counties.

It is an unusual oak, having glossy green or yellow-green leaves with coarse teeth that resemble chestnut leaves more than oak leaves.

In fact, its common name comes from its resemblance to the Ozark Chinkapin Chestnut tree.

The Chinkapin Oak tree has a wide climatic tolerance (USDA Zone 3 – 9) that allows them to be grown anywhere in NM, from the northern mountains through to the southern deserts.

While drought-tolerant, they cannot handle severe or prolonged droughts, making them unsuitable for xeriscaping in the more arid areas of NM, where they require some irrigation during the dry season. In mountainous areas, Chinkapin Oak can survive without irrigation once established.

Best grown in full sun in moderately fertile soils that can be slightly acidic to alkaline, provided they are well-drained.

You can also learn how to identify Chinkapin Oak.

Other Common Names: Chinquapin Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 ft (10 to 100 ft) tall, 40 – 70 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers in March to May; acorns mature in autumn

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa

Bur Oak Tree, Leaves and Acorns
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

In New Mexico, Bur Oak is a rare native tree found only in scattered locations in the northeastern part of the state.

It is a gorgeous large shade tree with large, deeply lobed leaves.

Its contorted branches and deeply furrowed bark add winter interest to the landscape.

Unlike the other oaks mentioned above, Bur Oak prefers moderate moisture, making it more suitable for the northern or mountainous areas of NM rather than the more arid lowlands.

It does have some drought tolerance once established but is not suitable for xeriscaping.

The Bur Oak tree is best grown in full sun in various soil types, including acidic, alkaline, loamy, sandy, clay, well-drained, or wet soils.

The large nuts it produces are bigger and sweeter than most oaks and can be harvested and eaten by people, but birds and other wildlife also love them.

Learn how to identify Bur Oak in its native habitat.

Other Common Names: Burr Oak, Mossycup Oak, Savanna Oak, Overcup Oak, Prairie Oak, and Blue Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers March to May; acorns mature in autumn with a large crop every 2 – 6 years and smaller crops in between

Available at: Nature Hills

Mighty Majestic Oaks of New Mexico

New Mexico has a surprisingly large amount of oak trees and shrubs that grow naturally in the diverse environments found in this unique and ecologically diverse state.

They can be grown as smaller shrub oaks suitable for xeriscaping or as small to even large-sized trees if irrigation is provided, or they are grown in the cooler, wetter mountainous regions.

I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the majestic oaks of New Mexico. Perhaps this has inspired you to find one you can grow in your own yard in NM, regardless of what New Mexico growing zone you live in. Happy growing!

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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