Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 18 — Northern Pin Oak

northern pin oakEvery landscape needs a significant tree. Many urban gardeners seek to find trees that are smaller and more suited to small spaces, but if you have a property that is one-quarter acre or more in size, you can plant an oak — and you will be glad you did.

Northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) is a great native option for its toughness and good looks especially for gardeners in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota. Pin oaks grow 40 to 65 feet tall with a fairly narrow trunk and a pyramidal to rounded crown. The leaves are narrow, pointed with six lobes. In the spring, they are reddish, then turn a bright, glossy green.

oak leaves in fall

The narrow leaves of northern pin oak are stunning in fall.

But it’s in the colder months of the year, that northern pin oaks really add to the northern landscape. In fall, these oaks turn color slowly. Individual leaves may have shades of yellow, red, or brown, and together they are the quintessential fall red-orange, like a flame of a tree. While strong fall winds may denude a tree of leaves, often pin oaks hold onto their leaves until spring, adding another dimension to the winter landscape.

Northern pin oaks tolerate a range of soils well, but they are susceptible to oak wilt. A tree infected with oak wilt will rapidly lose its leaves, generally from the top of the crown down. Fortunately, oak wilt can be controlled, and oaks of all types remain one of the best plants for northern gardens.