6 Best Places to Plant an Oak Tree (and How to Plant Them)

Lonely oak tree in the center on a green field with a retro feeling

Oak trees are a common species, especially in North America, and grow in many different regions. If you are looking to find the best locations to plant an oak tree, and how to go about doing that, this piece is for you. 

Some species of oak trees can survive only in certain climate conditions, also referred to as hardiness zones. In truth, the Western United States, hardiness zones 1a-11b and the American Southwest, hardiness zones 5b-10a, are the best places to plant an oak tree due to their versatile climates.

Before we dive deeper into learning about these growing zones, oak tree prime planting locations, and how to plant these trees, it is best to talk about the places that you can plant them. Let’s start chipping away, shall we?

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Where Should I Plant An Oak Tree?

Oak trees are versatile, they are well-known, and they are resilient. These trees can not only be found across the entire United States, most varieties can actually thrive in many geographical regions. 

The black oak, for example, can live in locations that have temperatures as low as -40 Fahrenheit, but they can also thrive in places like the American Southeast that have temperatures that get only as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

When it comes down to it, no matter where in the united states you are looking to plant an oak tree, there is going to be some variety that perfectly fits the climate. 

Here is the next biggest question you may be asking:

Can I Plant An Oak Tree Anywhere?

You can plant oak trees in nearly any region. Their resilience and adaptability to different climate zones vary throughout the species, but you are sure to find just the right place to plant your oak tree. 

It isn’t time for those locations just yet. First, it is worth mentioning the how of planting your oak tree.

How Do I Plant An Oak Tree?

You can plant an oak tree from an acorn or from a sapling, though the latter might be technically considered a relocation. The rainy season, between November and March, is the best time to plant an oak tree. This way, you know that the tree will be getting enough water, but also nutrients from the soil in which it has been planted. 

If you are looking to transplant a sapling, the same rules apply.

How Deep Do You Plant An Oak Tree?

Your acorn, if you are truly starting from the beginning, should be planted one-half-inch to an inch deep into the ground. 

This will eventually turn into a sapling and can be transplanted to an area where you would prefer your oak tree to grow. If you wish to avoid this process, again, you will want to dig a hole deep, and wide, enough to have plenty of space for the root ball. Crushing the roots in too small an area is no way to start off your tree journey. 

When you think about it, you really just need enough space to let either the acorn or the sapling have some room to breathe and either break the surface or continue to grow in a way that is healthy. 

Okay, it is finally time to talk about the big question- WHERE should you plant your oak tree?

Plant An Oak Tree In These 6 Locations

Beautiful oak tree on a lawn with the setting autumn sun shining warmly through its leaves

Now, it’s not as simple as:

Step 1: Have an oak tree

Step 2: Plant it in a certain region that checks off a few boxes. 

It is, however, as easy as 1,2,3.

Step 1: Pick out your variety of oak tree

Step 2: Figure out which growing zone is best for your variety of oak

Step 3: Determine which American region contains those recommended growing zones

If you need some tips on planting an oak tree, you can read our guide on the best time to plant an oak tree here.

What is a Growing or Hardiness Zone?

Growing zones, or plant hardiness zones, are a way to mark certain regions by their average annual extreme minimum temperature. Kind of a mouthful, huh? 

Well, a hardiness zone basically this means that we have a way to see which trees (among other plants) can not only survive but thrive in areas with certain low temperatures.

For example, you might not want to ever live somewhere like Minnesota that gets extremely cold winters, but the warm winters in Alabama may also be too warm for you. Perhaps you would pick a more temperate region like Southern California. 

Plants have their preferences, too. 

The United States has growing zones, each split into an A and B category, which accounts for a slight variation in the average minimum temperature. Each zone offers a range of 10 degrees, while the A and B distinctions break these into 5-degree ranges.

American Upper Midwest Region: Hardiness Zones 2b-5a

In this region, the minimum temperature (that is what we will call the annual average extreme minimum temperature, from now on) ranges from -45 to -15. 

As you can tell, the Upper Midwest region gets pretty cold. This region consists of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. 

Which trees can grow here, though, you may be wondering. 

We have compiled a list of the trees that will do well here, including the marker ‘Prime Location’ for the species that this region best fits.

  • Willow oak
  • Pin oak
  • Chinkapin oak
  • Post oak
  • Bur oak: Prime Location
  • White oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak
  • Black oak

As you can see, a good number of oak trees do well here, but only two really thrive in these conditions. The bur and the white oak are prime candidates for this region. 

Western United States: Hardiness Zones 1a-11b

The Western United States is comprised of many regions in one, with a wide variety of climates. This means that the minimum temperature can be anywhere from -50 to 50. Quite the range, we must say.

In the West, we have states such as California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

This is by far the widest range of minimum temperatures, therefore all of our oak trees on this list fall under the ‘Prime Location’ category for the Western United States.

Here are the best oak trees to plant in the Western United States, hardiness zones 1a-11b:

  • Willow oak: Prime Location
  • Japanese evergreen oak: Prime Location
  • Water oak: Prime Location
  • Pin oak: Prime Location
  • Chinkapin oak: Prime Location
  • Post oak: Prime Location
  • Bur oak: Prime Location
  • White oak: Prime Location
  • Coast live oak: Prime Location
  • Interior live oak: Prime Location
  • Canyon live oak: Prime Location
  • Southern live oak: Prime Location
  • Valley oak: Prime Location
  • Southern red oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak: Prime Location
  • Black oak: Prime Location
  • Laurel oak: Prime Location

You may notice that the following zones have a lot of the same trees. Well, for these common types of oak trees, they can survive in these zones.

You will, however, still want to check out a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which part of this region best corresponds to your oak tree. At the bottom of this article, we will include a list of each tree and its specific growing zone range.

Lonely oak tree on a green field and blue sky

American Southwest: Hardiness Zones 5b-10a

The American Southwest can range from a minimum of -15 all the way up to 35 degrees. Its states are Arizona, New Mexico, and portions of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas. Really, only the parts of these states that border Arizona and New Mexico are considered a part of the Southwest, due to their close proximity to these desert regions.

Another ‘Prime Location’ for so many of our oak trees, the American Southwest is typically going to be a safe bet to plant your oak tree of any variety.

Here are the best trees to plant in the American Southwest, hardiness zones 5b-10a:

  • Willow oak: Prime Location
  • Japanese evergreen oak
  • Water oak: Prime Location
  • Pin oak: Prime Location
  • Chinkapin oak: Prime Location
  • Post oak: Prime Location
  • Bur oak
  • White oak
  • Coast live oak: Prime Location
  • Interior live oak: Prime Location
  • Canyon live oak: Prime Location
  • Southern live oak: Prime Location
  • Valley oak: Prime Location
  • Southern red oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak: Prime Location
  • Black oak: Prime Location
  • Laurel oak: Prime Location

Again, we are extending a friendly reminder to look at a specific Plant Hardiness Zone Map to confirm before planting your tree. Though most of this region is a safe bet for most of these trees, you’ll want to check for yourself before you plant!

At some point, you may need a fertilizer for your oak tree. You can read our guide on the best fertilizers for oak trees here.

American Southeast: Hardiness Zones 7a-12a

Speaking of the South, the American Southeast is another, even warmer, region. The minimums here range from an even 0 all the way to 55 degrees, and that is just an extreme minimum, remember? 

This region is much warmer than its previous counterparts and contains the continental states Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, and North Carolina. 

This region has fewer oak tree varieties that can call this a ‘Prime Location’, but it is a popular one nonetheless. Here are the best trees to plant in the American Southeat, hardiness zones 7a-12a:

  • Willow oak: Prime Location
  • Japanese evergreen oak: Prime Location
  • Water oak
  • Pin oak
  • Chinkapin oak
  • Post oak
  • Bur oak
  • White oak
  • Coast live oak: Prime Location
  • Interior live oak: Prime Location
  • Canyon live oak: Prime Location
  • Southern live oak: Prime Location
  • Valley oak: Prime Location
  • Southern red oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak: Prime Location
  • Black oak
  • Laurel oak: Prime Location

10 out of 17 varieties being able to really thrive in the American Southeast is not at all a bad variety, and we think that this region is a pretty safe bet!

If you’re thinking about planting an oak tree in your yard, make sure you actually SHOULD before you do so. You can read our guide about planting an oak tree in your backyard here.

American Midwest: Hardiness Zones 3a-7a

The Midwest is another American region that is diverse both environmentally and geographically. From -40 to 5 as a minimum temperature, the Southern states, both East and West, make this region look freezing cold. Go back and compare it to the Upper Midwest region, however, and you’ll remember that this is a pretty temperate client, really.

With states like North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan (yes, some double dip), Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio, oak trees have a good range of temperatures in which they can flourish. 

Though only about half of these trees can call the Midwest a ‘Prime Location’, it is still impressive to see how many oak trees can do well in this American Midwest region.

Here are the best oak trees to plant in the American Midwest, hardiness zones 3a-7a:

  • Willow oak
  • Water oak
  • Pin oak: Prime Location
  • Chinkapin oak: Prime Location
  • Post oak
  • Bur oak: Prime Location
  • White oak: Prime Location
  • Southern live oak
  • Valley oak
  • Southern red oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak
  • Black oak: Prime Location
  • Laurel oak: Prime Location

Eastern United States: Hardiness Zones 2b-8a

Now we’re getting back into a colder category again with the Eastern states of America showing a -45 to 15-degree average minimum temperature. Nonetheless, the trees that grow in this area don’t seem to mind, because it counts as a ‘Prime Location’ for the majority of our oaks. 

This may not be quite as surprising, once we revisit the states that are in this region. New England, or the Eastern United States, is known for its beautiful landscape of vibrant leaves falling in autumn and lush trees flourishing in the spring and summer. 

Getting to experience this picturesque wonderland for trees are the Eastern states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Though technically not a state, this region does also include the American capital of Washington D.C. 

Another geographic area with so many ‘Prime Location’ spots that help prove that oak trees really can grow and thrive anywhere in the United States, so long as they are the right type.

Here are the best oak trees to plant in the Eastern United States, hardiness zones 2b-8a:

  • Willow oak
  • Water oak
  • Pin oak: Prime Location
  • Chinkapin oak: Prime Location
  • Post oak: Prime Location
  • Bur oak: Prime Location
  • White oak: Prime Location
  • Interior live oak
  • Canyon live oak
  • Southern live oak
  • Valley oak
  • Southern red oak: Prime Location
  • Blue oak
  • Black oak: Prime Location
  • Laurel oak: Prime Location

That’s All We’ve Got!

Basically, it all comes down to which type of oak tree you are hoping to plant. Different varieties thrive in different growing zones, but there are trees that thrive in each zone of the United States, meaning that you are never really in a bad spot to plant an oak.

Remember that oak trees are widely versatile and adaptable, some more than others and that research is your friend! While some trees can grow in certain places, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. 

When it comes down to it, remember this list of regions that oak trees can grow: every single part of the United States is a prime geographical location for at least a few oak varieties. 

  • American Upper Midwest Region
  • Western United States
  • American Southeast
  • American Southwest
  • American Midwest
  • Eastern United States

As long as you know which varieties of oak can grow best in which regions, remember to dig a large enough hole for whichever catalyst you plant, and attend to your oak with care, you are sure to have a good growing experience.

To make your life easier, we have created a list of the specific growing zones for each tree:

TREEBEST HARDINESS ZONE
Willow oak5-9
Japanese evergreen oak9a-11
Water oak6-9
Pin oak4-8
Chinkapin oak3-9a
Post oak5-9
Bur oak2a-8a
White oak3b-8b
Coast live oak9-10
Interior live oak8-10
Canyon live oak8-10
Southern live oak7b-10b
Valley oak7-9
Southern red oak6-9
Blue oak5-10
Black oak3-9
Laurel oak6-9
Red oak4-8
Nuttall Oak6-9

Again, to make sure that you plant the right kind of oak in the right kind of place, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a wonderful resource. 

Thank you for reading!

I hope this article helps you to feel confident in your own tree journey. 

References

Krakauer, N. Y. (2012). Estimating climate trends: application to United States plant hardiness zones. Advances in Meteorology, 2012.

Abrams, M. D. (2003). Where has all the white oak gone?. BioScience53(10), 927-939.

Royston, A. (2009). Oak Tree (Vol. 16). Capstone Classroom.

Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1994). Quercus virginiana: Southern live oak. USDA, US Forest Service.(This document is adapted from Fact Sheet ST-564, a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: October 1994.).

McDonald, P. M. (1990). Quercus kelloggii Newb., California black oak. In: Burns RM, Honkala, BH, tech. coords. Silvics of North America. Volume 2, Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook. 654. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 661-671., 661-671.

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