Oak trees are long-lived, slow-growing trees that can provide shade for yourself and shelter to wildlife. If you’re thinking about planting a tree in your yard, an oak tree is a great choice, but how long will it take to grow?
It takes oak trees 5 to 6 years to become completely self-sustainable. Even the fastest-growing oak trees will only grow about 3 feet per year. It takes decades before an oak tree is fully grown. Oak trees need 20 to 30 years to begin producing acorns of their own, depending on the type of oak tree.
We’ll walk you through the full timeline of an oak tree’s life so you’ll know exactly how long it takes to grow an oak tree. Plus, we’ll cover some tips to help your oak tree grow faster, and how to keep any pesky critters from eating your tree before it has a chance to grow!
Which Oak Tree Should You Plant?
Whether you’re looking to plant a single oak tree, or looking to fill acres of land with these stately trees, you’ll need to decide what type of oak tree to plant.
The two broad categories of oak trees include red oaks and white oaks. Within these two categories are over 90 different types in North America.
So, how in the world do you decide which oak tree to plant?
The best oak tree to plant is going to be the same oak trees that live near you. Take a stroll around your yard or neighborhood and figure out what kind of oaks grow near you.
If you’re not sure, your local arborist or gardening center will know exactly which oak trees will be best to plant in your area. This will be based on what zone you live in, how cold it gets in the winter, how hot it gets in the summer, and how much rainfall your area gets.
Certain trees thrive in drier climates while others need higher rates of rainfall. Each oak tree will be uniquely adapted to certain conditions, so make sure you pick an oak tree that’s local to your area. Otherwise, it may not survive or it will have stunted growth.
How Quickly Does An Oak Tree Grow?
Because there are tons of different types of oak trees, there are tons of different growth rates, too!
Some oak trees can grow as much as three feet per year, such as the Nuttall Oak. Others, like the Post Oak, only grow about two inches. It all depends on what type of oak tree it is.
Weather conditions also play a small part in a tree’s growth rate. If the oak tree is grown in full sun, it’s likely to grow faster than one that’s in partial shade. Most oak trees cannot grow in full shade.
Proper soil conditions including PH and drainage will also affect how fast a tree grows. An oak that loves water will have a tough time growing in a dry climate, and vice versa.
Some oak trees live much longer and grow much faster than others. You can read our growth chart on the fastest growing oak trees here.
How Long Does It Take To Grow An Oak Tree? Full Timeline
So, you’ve found a local oak tree and you’re ready to grow one yourself. What can you expect? How long will you have to care for it?
Oak trees aren’t too hard to grow. They don’t require a ton of attention, so if you don’t have a green thumb you should still be safe to plant these majestic trees!
Let’s start at the beginning and work our way through the timeline of growing an oak tree.
Live oak trees, specifically, grow at a different rate. You can view our guide to how long live oak trees live here.
Day 1: Finding The Right Oak Tree Acorn
The first day of our oak tree timeline includes finding a seed to plant! This is as easy as identifying your local oak trees and waiting for the right moment.
The beginning of fall is the perfect time to go looking for acorns. According to Mississippi State University, picking acorns directly from the tree may not be the best idea as these can be immature.
Instead, wait until acorns begin falling from the tree. You’ll want to pick them up within 3 to 4 days of dropping. Otherwise, they could dry out and the seeds will no longer be viable. Even if you only want to plant a single oak tree, it’s best to pick up more acorns than you intend to plant.
Some of them will not be viable, so pick up as many as you like! You can discard the unusable ones back outside.
Here’s what to look for in your acorns:
- Color: Acorns should be mostly brown with a slight tinge of green.
- Cap scar: This is the widest part of the acorn and should be bright and firm when pressed with your fingers. If the cap is still on the acorn, you can gently discard it. If the cap does not come off easily, try a different acorn or find one without the cap.
- Make sure there are no holes in the acorns: This is a sign that a weevil or other pest has already burrowed in and made a meal of the seed.
- Check for mold or dark, mushy spots: You may be able to wash the mold off if there are no other acorns available, but it’s better to find acorns that are mold-free.
Once you’ve collected enough decent-looking acorns, it’s time to test if they’ll grow or not! Don’t worry, the test is a pass/fail with only one question: does it float or sink in water?
Acorns that float when placed in a bucket or bowl of water are not viable and can be discarded back outside. All the acorns that sink are the ones you can use to plant!
Day 1 – Day 30: Planting an Oak Acorn in The Fall
Now that we have viable acorns, it’s time to plant those puppies and watch them sprout! The only problem is that white oaks and red oaks require different handling when in the acorn stage.
Acorns from white oaks can be planted immediately after harvesting, but red oaks require a dormancy period. With that being said, you can plant both white oaks and red oaks immediately. The only difference is red oaks will not sprout until spring, while white oaks will sprout within 1 to 2 weeks of planting.
You can plant your acorn either in the place you want the tree permanently or somewhere more convenient. You can transplant the tree within the first year without any problems.
To prepare the area, till the soil. A good rule of thumb is to place the acorns one inch deep. You can plant up to five acorns per square foot. This will allow you to choose the healthiest sapling to transplant. Make sure wherever you plant the acorn, it will have plenty of sunlight.
If the acorn has already started sprouting, put the root-side down. If it hasn’t, simply plant the acorn sideways in the soil.
Over the next two weeks, you’ll start to see stems and leaves emerging from the soil if you planted a white oak acorn. During this time, you’ll want to remove the smaller seedlings to give the better-growing seedlings a shot at becoming the tree you’ll plant permanently.
Be sure to remove any grass or weeds that emerge, as this can stunt the growth of your seedlings.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for the acorn because squirrels and other digging critters LOVE to dig up acorns, especially in late fall and winter. There are a few ways you can prevent this.
- Lay chicken wire fence down: this is an especially good deterrent for red oak acorns as they will take a while to germinate and sprout. Be sure to remove the fencing once the stems begin peaking out from the soil.
- Use hardware cloth: You can use this in the same fashion as chicken wire fence. Be sure to remove it when the seeds are ready to germinate (early spring for red oaks, about 5 days after planting for white oaks).
For white oaks, after about a month you should have a good idea of which seedling is the fastest-growing and tallest. You’ll want to use this one for your tree. Be sure to remove the other seedlings or transplant them to a different location to allow your prized seedling to gobble up all the sun and nutrients.
If you’re worried about which oak tree you grabbed an acorn from, you can read our full guide on the best oak trees to plant here.
Month 1 – Year 1: Oak Sowing In The Fall
The next year will be a very vulnerable time for your seedling. It will need protection from browsing animals like deer.
You can use something like the Voglund Nursery Mesh Tree Bark Protector. The nice thing about this product is it comes in 4 different sizes, so you can continue to scale up the size as your seedling grows. It also comes with zip ties included for easy installation.
Some claim that heavy critter browsing may not be deterred by this type of wrap, but it is inexpensive, so if the browsing pressure isn’t too high in your area it may be worth it!
Once your tree reaches a height of 3 feet, it is considered a sapling. Woohoo! This can take anywhere from 6 months to a few years, depending on the type of oak tree. So if you make it this far, congratulations!
Before we move forward, let’s get back to those dormant red oak acorns, and how else you might grow them.
Month 6 – Day 1: Sowing Oaks In The Spring
If you’d rather wait until spring to plant your acorns, you can store them in the fridge or plant them indoors in pots until you’re ready. This goes for both red oak and white oak acorns.
For red oak acorns, they will not begin to sprout until spring. After you collect them in the fall, store them in a plastic bag left partially open in the fridge for two months.
Be sure to check them every few weeks for signs of mold growth. If you see any, simply wash it off and place them in new bags.
For white oak acorns, you can store them in moist sand in the refrigerator for up to four months. After this time you will either need to plant them outside or move them to a pot to start germinating.
If you have red oak acorns, their dormancy period should be over after about two months. At this point, you can move them to a pot or plant them outside. Due to outdoor winter conditions, it’s usually easier to move them to an indoor pot.
If you’re a bit unsure of the difference between red and white oak trees, you can read the key differences to each here.
Be sure your pot is at least 1 foot deep. You’ll want to use a mixture of potting soil and local topsoil. Just like with planting outside, you’ll want to plant a few acorns per pot so you can pick the largest one to move outside.
Plant the acorns sideways about one inch into the soil. The acorns only need watering once a week and should begin sprouting within two weeks.
Pro Tip For Planting Your Acorn
- Use a slow-release fertilizer in your pot to promote fast and healthy growth. EasyGo Product Milorganite Slow-Release Nitrogen Fertilizer is a great option. It’s simple to use and contains no salt, so it can be used in drought areas.
- Pots can sometimes promote root spiraling due to their shape. To combat this, prune or straighten the roots before transplanting.
Continue to monitor your seedlings as they grow, removing smaller seedlings where necessary to promote faster growth for your dominant seedling. It’s not until around April that you can safely move your seedlings outside.
Month 6 – Year 1: Sowing Oaks In The Spring
As soon as April rolls around and the birds start chirping, you can move your potted seedlings outside. It’s okay if temperatures dip below freezing again, oak trees can survive the frost.
Place your potted seedling in an area that gets partial shade. We don’t want to shock the tree with full sun just yet. For the next month or so, let your seedling get acclimated to outdoor life. If it hasn’t rained in over a week, be sure to water it.
After a month, you can move your seedling to full sun! Use our previous tips to protect your vulnerable seedling from browsing animals. For the next few months to few years, your seedling should grow substantially. Just like before, once it reaches a height of 3 feet it’s officially a sapling!
Year 1 – Year 5: Growing Oak Tree Saplings
Depending on the type of oak tree you planted, you may have to wait several years for it to reach its sapling stage. Others take less than a year.
But the awesome thing about saplings is they take WAY less work than our little acorns did. The big issue during this time is browsing, pests, and disease. Because our oak saplings are still young and small, they’re more susceptible to these things than a full-grown oak tree..
Another big issue: transplanting. If your small but mighty oak isn’t in its permanent location by now, it’s time to think about where you want to plant it. Find an area that will sit in full sun and make sure you visualize how big your oak will get and give it enough space to grow.
Transplanting within the first year should not be an issue with oak trees. The earlier you transplant the better. The longer you wait, the longer it will take for your oak tree to acclimatize to its new location, which could stunt its growth.
How To Transplant Your Oak Tree Sapling
- Dig an appropriate-sized hole
- Straighten or prune any spiraling roots
- Place sapling in hole and cover with removed dirt
- (optional) throw some mulch around your sapling to help retain moisture and deter digging critters like mice, moles, and voles.
For the next five years, you’ll need to be vigilant about browsing. Use tree guards or wraps to deter deer. You can also use scents and smells that deer or squirrels dislike to discourage them from coming near your sapling.
Unfortunately, oak saplings can be susceptible to certain tree diseases. You can read our piece on the most common oak tree diseases here.
Year 5 – Year 50: Grown Adult Oak Tree
Once your oak tree hits the five-year mark, it’s generally good to go. You can breathe deep, relax, and watch from afar as this amazing tree continues to grow.
An oak tree reaches maturity around 30 years old, but this can vary depending on the type of oak tree. You know your oak tree is mature when it begins producing its own acorns that you can spot in the summer.
At this point, your oak tree may be fully grown. However, some oak trees will continue to grow for decades more, if not centuries!
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully this timeline gives you a good idea of how long it takes to grow an oak tree. It can be fun to plant an acorn, care for it, and watch it grow.
Although you may not be around when your mighty oak tree has reached full maturity and height, generations to come will be able to enjoy its shade and the wildlife that call it home. Not a bad legacy to leave behind!
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Pilcher, J. R., & Gray, B. (1982, March). The Relationships between Oak Tree Growth and Climate in Britain. Journal of Ecology, 70(1), 297-304.
Willaume, M. (2006, March). How periodic growth pattern and source/sink relations affect root growth in oak tree seedlings. Journal of Experimental Botany, 57(4), 815-826.