White Oak

Quercus alba

Description & Overview

White Oak is a large, strong, imposing Wisconsin native specimen tree. It has a stocky trunk with wide-spreading horizontal limbs that are picturesque. Its foliage turns to a brilliant display of colors in autumn with showy shades of orange, red, and violet. This oak can live for centuries which is important to take into consideration when selecting a site to ensure the tree lives its best life.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 80-100 feet
Mature Spread: 50-80 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Broad. Round. Spreading.
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Adapts well to average soils. Preforms best in slightly acidic, moist loamy soils.
Flower: Male catkins 2-4 inches long; female flowers small single spikes
Bloom Period: May
Foliage: Green to blue-green
Fall Color: Orange/red to violet
Fruit Notes: Acorn up to 3/4” long with warty-scale cupule

Suggested Uses:

White Oak has a pyramidal form in youth but matures into a substantial tree with strong, wide-spreading branches which form an upright, rounded crown. This oak can live for hundreds of years in the right site. Due to its durability and longevity, it makes it an excellent choice for a shade or specimen tree.

When using this tree for landscaping, pay attention to planting it in rich, well-draining soil, and give it a generous mulch ring.

Salable #5 RootMaker White Oak. Pictures taken mid-August.

Wildlife Value:

Oaks are at the pinnacle of wildlife value.

Oaks support more life forms than any other North American tree genus. They provide food and/or protection to a wide variety of wildlife, from birds to bear to insects. It’s estimated that oak trees support around 900 species of caterpillars in the United States. Like all oaks in the White Oak group, their acorns have less tannin than those in the Red Oak group. This makes them more palatable and preferable to wildlife. More than 180 different kinds of birds and mammals use oak acorns as food including squirrels, blue jays, crows, woodpeckers, deer, turkey, quail, mice, chipmunks, ducks, and raccoons.

Maintenance Tips:

Full sun and partial shade are best for this oak. This means it prefers a minimum of 4-hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day. White Oaks grow best in slightly acidic to neutral soil that is moist and well-drained. While adaptable to other soil textures, please note noted that you should not plant them in heavy shade, poor drainage, or in abused urban soils. Generally, White Oak struggles to grow in alkaline clay sites; however, our White Oaks are a local ecotype selection which gives them a higher tolerance for alkaline soils.

All oaks are susceptible to Two-Lined Chestnut Borer during the establishment period after planting. Applying a systemic insecticide containing imidacloprid when planting will help protect your new White Oak trees from this insect.

Don’t prune White Oak during the growing season. While it’s not as susceptible to Oak Wilt as those in the Red Oak group, the disease can still damage stressed trees. Prune only during the dormant season in winter after the leaves have fallen.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.


When healthy, White Oaks have few significant diseases or insect problems. Occasionally the leaves can be defoliated by Gypsy Moth, Orange Striped Oakworm, and the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar. Avoiding causing damage or wounds during the growing season will help avoid Oak Wilt from infecting your White Oak.

The most important care for your White Oak is maintaining health and vigor through good mulching and adequate watering. During the first two years after planting, make sure the tree has enough moisture to properly establish its roots. Use a systemic insecticide to protect it from Two-Lined Chestnut Borer, as mentioned above.

If stressed, White Oak is susceptible to attack by Two-Lined Chestnut Borer, Oak Webworm, Leaf Miners, Oak Skeletonizer, Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar, Cotton Root Rot, and Strumella Canker. You can avoid all of these pests and diseases with proper care.

Leaf Lore:

The White Oak was used alongside other oaks in the construction of the famous USS Constitution. Even in World War II, White Oak served our country as the keels of minesweepers and patrol boats.

White oak is the Illinois state tree.

A 500-year-old White Oak located in Bedford, New York is the town mascot.

The oldest White Oak in the country is located at Sugarcreek Metropark, near Bellbrook, Ohio. There are three awe-inspiring White Oak trees there called the Three Sisters. The oldest of the three, Big Sister, was estimated to have been planted in 1440 which makes it 581-years-old!

Companion Plants:

White Oak grows in association with many other trees, the more important of which are other upland Oaks. Common forest companions are Hickories, Poplar, Basswood, Sweetgum, Blackgum, American Beech, and Sugar Maple.

Understory neighbors include Leadplant, Meadow Rue, Huckleberry, and False Solomon’s Seal.

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