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Quercus phellos (Willow Oak)

Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Peach Oak

Quercus phellos, Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak Tree with fall color, Fall color, Attractive bark Tree
Quercus phellos, Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak Tree with fall color, Fall color, Attractive bark Tree
Quercus phellos, Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak Tree with fall color, Fall color, Attractive bark Tree
Quercus phellos, Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak Tree with fall color, Fall color, Attractive bark Tree

A handsome and popular shade tree, Quercus phellos, commonly known as Willow Oak, is a deciduous tree admired for its graceful, willow-like leaves. It’s a member of the red oak group and features a straight trunk with a rounded, spreading canopy, offering a blend of elegance and sturdiness that makes it a favorite in both urban and natural settings.

Quercus phellos: An In-depth Look

Native: Willow Oak is native to the south-central and eastern United States, flourishing in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, from New York to Florida and west to Texas and Missouri.

Plant Type and Habit: Long-lived (200 years), Willow Oak is a deciduous tree with a characteristic upright and oval to rounded growth habit. Willow Oak is known for its moderate to rapid growth rate and a form that becomes more impressive with age, featuring a dense, symmetrical canopy ideal for shade and aesthetic appeal.

Size: Willow Oak typically grows 40-60 feet tall (12-18 m) with a spread of about 30-40 feet (9-12 m). Its size, coupled with its open branching structure, makes it an excellent shade tree in a variety of landscapes.

Flowers: The tree produces inconspicuous flowers in spring. Male flowers are yellow-green catkins, while female flowers are smaller and less noticeable. Both male and female flowers are found on the same tree, making it monoecious.

Fruits: The tree bears small, rounded acorns, about 0.5 inches in diameter. These acorns have a thin, saucer-like cap and are striated with brown and black bands.

Foliage: The foliage of Willow Oak is one of its most distinctive features. The leaves, up to 5 inches (12 cm), are slender, lanceolate, and resemble those of a willow, hence the name. They are bright green in spring and summer, turning yellow to russet in the fall before shedding, providing seasonal interest.

Bark: The bark of young Willow Oaks is smooth and light gray. As the tree matures, the bark becomes rougher, developing into a darker gray with ridges and furrows. This textural change adds to the tree’s visual interest, especially in winter.

Hardiness: This oak is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9. It adapts to a range of soil types, from wet to well-drained, and tolerates urban conditions.

Uses: Willow Oak is extensively used in urban and suburban landscapes for street planting, parks, and large lawns due to its tolerance of pollution and compacted soils. It’s also valued in forested settings for its ecological contributions. The wood is used for timber, furniture, and flooring, though not as extensively as some other oaks.

Wildlife: Oak trees support over 800 caterpillar species in the United States. They are host plants for over 500 species of butterflies, including the Striped Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Edwards Hairstreak, Red Banded Hairstreak, White M Hairstreak, Mourning Cloak, and Horace’s Duskywing. Birds and mammals, including deer and squirrels, consume the acorns.

Deer and Rabbits: While young trees may be susceptible to browsing by deer and rabbits, mature Willow Oaks are less prone to damage. Using protective measures like tree guards can help safeguard saplings from these animals.

Toxicity: The leaves and acorns contain tannic acid, which can be toxic to horses and some pets if ingested in large quantities.

Invasiveness: This species is not considered invasive in its native range.

Quercus phellos, Willow Oak, Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak Tree with fall color, Fall color, Attractive bark Tree

How to Grow and Care for a Willow Oak Tree

Light: Prefers full sun for optimal growth and health. It can tolerate partial shade but may affect growth rate and foliage density.

Soil: Adapts well to a variety of soil types. Prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Chlorosis due to iron deficiency occurs in high-pH soil. Willow Oak tolerates clay soil and wet soil.

Water: Regular watering is essential, especially for young trees. Mature Willow Oaks have moderate drought tolerance.

Fertilizer: Apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring for young trees. Mature trees typically require less frequent fertilization.

Pruning: Prune in late winter to early spring to remove dead or crossing branches. Maintain a central leader in young trees to promote strong structure.

Propagation: Primarily propagated through seeds (acorns). Best to plant acorns in fall directly in the growing location. Grow your own oak tree: a step-by-step guide to planting acorns. Willow Oak is readily transplanted because of its shallow roots. Transplant in late winter, when dormant. It is also incredibly tolerant of heat, drought, and stress once established.

Pests and Diseases: Potential insects may include scale insects, leafminers, galls, lace bugs, borers, and caterpillars. It can be susceptible to root rot, anthracnose, oak wilt, canker, leaf spot, and powdery mildew. Learn more about the pests and diseases of oak trees. This tree is susceptible to wind damage.

Requirements

Hardiness 6 - 9
Heat Zones 3 - 9
Climate Zones 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Fagaceae
Genus Quercus
Common names Willow Oak, Oak
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 40' - 60'
(12.2m - 18.3m)
Spread 30' - 40'
(9.1m - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries
Native Plants United States, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Midwest, Missouri, Southeast, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Southwest, Texas, Oklahoma
Tolerance Drought, Clay Soil, Wet Soil
Attracts Birds, Butterflies
Garden Uses Rain Gardens
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow
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Alternative Plants to Consider

Quercus douglasii (Blue Oak)
Quercus chrysolepis (Canyon Live Oak)
Quercus myrtifolia (Myrtle Oak)
Quercus velutina (Black Oak)
Quercus laurifolia (Laurel Oak)
Quercus hemisphaerica (Darlington Oak)

Recommended Companion Plants

Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress)
Ilex opaca (American Holly)
Quercus hemisphaerica (Darlington Oak)
Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia)
Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)
Magnolia virginiana (Sweet Bay Magnolia)

Find In One of Our Guides or Gardens

Roots of Life: Exploring the Diverse World of Trees
Green Canopy, Better World: Exploring the Benefits of Trees
Trees that Invite Wildlife to Your Garden
Spectacular Trees for Vibrant Fall Colors: A Gardener’s Guide
Quercus (Oak) – Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
Grow Your Own Oak Tree: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Acorns
8 Compelling Reasons Why You Should Plant an Oak Tree
Native Oak Trees: A Must-Have for Your Landscape
Native Plant Alternatives to Quercus acutissima (Sawtooth Oak)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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Requirements

Hardiness 6 - 9
Heat Zones 3 - 9
Climate Zones 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Fagaceae
Genus Quercus
Common names Willow Oak, Oak
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 40' - 60'
(12.2m - 18.3m)
Spread 30' - 40'
(9.1m - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries
Native Plants United States, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Midwest, Missouri, Southeast, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Southwest, Texas, Oklahoma
Tolerance Drought, Clay Soil, Wet Soil
Attracts Birds, Butterflies
Garden Uses Rain Gardens
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow
How Many Plants
Do I Need?
Guides with
Quercus (Oak)
Not sure which Quercus (Oak) to pick?
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