Eight Evergreen Oaks for the Southwest

I encouraged you to plant evergreen oaks recently.  Now here is some information about which oaks to plant.

There are many native oaks to choose from, but let’s start with these eight that you can actually purchase from your local nursery. Be very wary of oaks form big box stores. They are often not from our region and will not survive our lower humidity.  I suppose that if you do buy one and it doesn’t make it – you could always chop it up for the fire pit.

Remember, these all oaks have nice deep roots.  If you water them correctly (deeply, not in sips)  they won’t heave the walls of the house, walls, or sidewalks.

Eight Oaks for the Southwest

The Emory oak has distinctive leathery leaves, with a furry, heat resistant coating. Photo courtesy T. Lebgue.

Emory Oak

Quercus emoryi is also called blackjack oak.    This is the one found at around 3000 feet in elevation on the dry foothills.  Forms a tree anywhere from 15 to 50 feet tall.  Big ones can have a trunk diameter of around two feet.    Slower growing than some, but forms a stately canopy. With very careful pruning – not topping! – this can be kept small.  The cover image for this post is an Emory oak, courtesy Z. Akulova.

Gray oak indeed – the light reflecting hairs help this oak survive intense sunlight and drought. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova.

Desert Scrub Oak – Gray Oak

Quercus turbinella has acorns with turbans, just like the scientific name says.  Kinda cool.   As you may have guessed by the common name, this doesn’t do so well at forming a stately tree – more of a shrubby one.  That said, it can be pruned into a nice, appropriately smaller tree for a smaller yard.  Slow growing to 10 feet tall and as wide. May also be sold as “gray oak” which sounds nicer than “scrub” I guess.

Mexican blue oak in the wild. Naturally forms a pretty little tree and can grow fast. Photo courtesy W. Anderson.

Mexican Blue Oak

Quercus oblongifolia features oblong leaves that have a bluish-grey color.    Semi-evergreen tree reaching around 20 feet tall and wide.    The leaves are paler underneath and lovely to sit under. This is also a good choice for those smaller yards.  Will grow quite quickly from a seed.

Not a small oak, the California live oak has an extensive canopy at maturity. Image courtesy Z. Akulova.

California Coast Live Oak

Quercus agrifolia is a lovely, round-headed tree that becomes wide spreading with age, 30 to 40 feet tall, and generally wider than it is tall.    Grows faster if you water it in winter in spring (where it gets rain in it’s native area).    Will not need summer water once it’s mature.

Less grey leaved than some of these other desert oaks, the Texas live oak grows in the Chihuahuan Desert. This one ia at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova.

Texas Live Oak

Quercus fusiformis  is also called the escarpment oak.  Yep, its from Texas, and down into the Chihuahuan Desert mountains.  Reaches from 20 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide with a nice rounded form. Again – not for a small yard. That said, it is slow growing. Go ahead and plant one – by the time it dwarfs the house it won’t be your issue.

soule-word-scienceWord Nerd shares that fusiform means a form or shape where both ends are tapered. Pull the little cap off the acorn and you will see these tapered ends.

Engelmann oak. This unique individual had branches bent to the ground when it was young – and they rooted!. Image courtesy W. Schrenk.

Englemann Oak

Quercus englemannii is graced with long, rounded, blue-green leaves. This oak is from California, but not the coast – from the dry inland regions. Reaches 50 feet tall and wide.

Holly oak is a perfect oak for someone who desires a tree with a naturally rounded form. Photo courtesy J. Pawek.

Holly Oak

Quercus ilex is also called Italian live oak.    Named for it’s somewhat glossy holly-like leaves, it has a relatively fast growth rate and a spreading top (crown), reaching around 30 feet tall.

Cork oak along a street in California. Grows naturally in Spain and Portugal – neither of which are quite as hot as Low Desert like Phoenix. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova.

Cork Oak

Quercus suber is truly lovely (IMHO) but it does not tolerate the heat of Low Desert gardens. Once every seven years, bark of cork oak mature trees is carefully harvested to make corks.   One of the faster growing oaks, it can reach 40 feet tall and as wide.

Seven Final Notes Today

Note 1.

Remember, all plants from any nursery will need extra water to get established in the landscape.

Note 2.

All living plants will shed leaves and grow new ones.    A large, mature tree will make noticeable litter.   Solve this issue of fallen leaves with a nice “tree well” around the tree for litter to fall in. Then let it lay – let the leaves naturally mulch and shade the soil – reducing evaporation, and slowly recycling themselves itself into nutrients for the tree they fell off of.

Note 3.

Some of you may be skeptical about seeing these oaks mature in your life time, and if you are in your ninth decade, you might be right.   But if you are younger than that – consider planting an oak. They can attain a quite respectable size within 7 to 10 years.

All acorns are edible – but they can be full of bitter tannins and will need processing first. Image courtesy J. Doyden.

Note 4.

One other great thing about oaks. All acorns are edible. You may need to soak them first to get the tannins out. Read more about how to eat acorns here on Savor the Southwest.  Alternatively, feed the acorns to chickens and eat the chickens.

Note 5.

Speaking of tannins, those natural chemicals found in oaks and acorns are great for dying cloth and tanning leather.  If the world goes to hell in a handbasket, might be nice to have an oak around for tanning hides.

Note 6.

Why didn’t I mention the lovely Gambels oak (Quercus gambelii) you ask?  Because it is not evergreen.


Note 7.

On advice of a business manager – I was told to more actively sell my “products.”   I responded, “Start blowing my own horn more?!  I’m a gardener and a writer, not a sales agent!” but here goes:

As well as writing about plants, I offer classes online and in person.  Then there is the fun and informative Membership site the Gardening With Soule Membership Club. There are many wonderful features to the Club site – in-depth detail on topics (more than mere blog posts) – specific plant profiles – care videos – monthly live Q & A sessions, and much more.

Why do I do all this writing and teaching?

So that you will succeed with your gardening goals, and enjoy gardening here as much as I do.

How to take care of your oaks:

soule-books-buyOne reviewer said:

“A great reference book is key to successful gardening in the region where you live. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening takes the guesswork out of gardening for anyone residing in the Southwest. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to enjoy a thriving garden all year, from January to December. Chronologically organized, this guide is full of critical gardening when-to and how-to advice, along with illustrated step-by-step instructions.

The book’s author is Jacqueline Soule, a Tucson-based gardening expert. She knows this arid region inside and out, and she’s written several articles and books packed with her gardening advice. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening showcases Soule’s expertise in one easy-to-read guide.”

This book (and others) are available on my book selling site.  Buy the book there, and the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.


© Article copyright Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on my site. No stealing photos.


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