Oak Trees for Your Yard

Have you considered an oak tree for your yard?  If you can answer yes to any of these questions – an oak tree may be right for you.

Looking for a tall, stately tree for your yard?   Have a tiny yard – but want a nice tree? A tree that provides good dense shade?    One that won’t lose its leaves in winter?   Less messy than a mesquite?    Low water use?   Roots that won’t crack the driveway?   Not on the HOA prohibited list?

Emory oak in the wild. With extra water in a landscape and a little pruning when young, forms a lovely shady tree. Photo courtesy Z Akulova

Oaks in the Southwest?!

Sure.  There are a number of native species. Drought tolerant species. Species that use FAR less water than an Arizona ash – and have leaves all year. Some even stay small and thus are good in a smaller yard.

Oak trees are often overlooked as landscape trees, but they shouldn’t be.    Granted, oaks don’t grow out in the desert floor itself – but they do grow in a wide variety of desert-like habitats.

Turban oak, also called grey oak, or desert scrub oak, outside of Zion National Park. Photo courtesy J Pawek.

Oak Trees Survive Drought

First place you find drought-tolerant oaks is on any of our desert Sky Islands – meaning mountains. Starting as low as a mere 3000 feet elevation you can encounter oaks. Yes, it gets into the 100’s in those areas too.

Next place for low-water oaks is in a Mediterranean climate, meaning one that gets rain only in winter.  Found in southern California, and in Portugal, Spain, southern Italy and the like.  Like the cork oak from Portugal.

Oaks are also found in sites where, due to soil conditions (called edaphic factors), the site may as well be a desert. One example of this is extremely sandy sites, where rain drains quickly, leaving the oaks high and dry.    These soils are also low in organic matter, like desert soils.   This is found in Southeastern US (which is also hot in summer).

Leaves of the turban oak are stiff and leathery. They resis water loss with a waxy coating. Photo courtesy R. Sivinski.

About Oak Leaves

Oaks will drop their leaves – as will any plant. The questions how. Deciduous oaks will drop all their leaves – in the autumn – leaving the tree bare part of the year. Evergreen oaks, also called live oaks, are always graced with leaves. They tend to shed older, shaded ones and grow new ones in the spring, so you will still have fallen leaves at some point in time – but never a bare tree, a dead-looking tree.


Some of you may be skeptical about seeing these oaks mature in your life time, and if you are in your ninth decade of life, you might be correct.   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.

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 harvesting and using acorns on Savor the Southwest.  Alternatively, feed the acorns to chickens and eat the chickens. 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.

Come back next week for a nice selection of evergreen oaks for our region.  Or consider joining the Gardening With Soule Membership Club.  There I feature the in-depth content I can’t cover in a blog setting that the search engines will ever show anybody (too long, use the keyword too often).  Oaks is just one of the many plant guides on the membership site – as a 12 page guide called Evergreen Oak Guide.  It is available to all members.

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.”

Available on my book selling site – and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.


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One thought on “Oak Trees for Your Yard

  1. Two notes after I published this.

    There are two species of Southwestern oaks whose acorns are low in tannins – the Mexican blue oak, and the Emory oak.

    Arizona white oak is a stately tree, but the Toumey oak is more shrubby. Both are fine for acorns for eating.

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