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What are the cons of swamp white oak?

Swamp white oak, also known as Quercus bicolor, is a species of oak tree native to the eastern and midwestern United States. As its name suggests, it is commonly found in swamps and other wetlands. While swamp white oak has many positive qualities that make it a popular landscape tree, there are some potential drawbacks to consider before planting it.

Slow Growth

One of the biggest cons of swamp white oak is its relatively slow growth rate. This species typically only grows about 1-2 feet per year when planted as a landscape specimen. While slow growth is not necessarily bad, it means you’ll have to be patient to reach the mature size and form of the tree. Here’s a table comparing the growth rate of swamp white oak to other common oaks:

Tree Species Growth Rate (feet per year)
Swamp White Oak 1-2
Pin Oak 2-3
Red Oak 2-4
Willow Oak 3-4

As you can see, swamp white oak is on the slower end of the spectrum when it comes to oak growth rates. Plan for it to take at least 10-20 years to reach maturity.

Massive Size

Given time and space, swamp white oaks can grow into massive trees, reaching 60-80 feet tall with a spread of 40-60 feet wide. This enormous size is a con for many homeowners who have limited space in their yard. Without proper siting and planning, swamp white oaks can easily outgrow their planting areas and start to infringe on structures, overhead lines, sidewalks, and streets. Here’s a table showing the mature size range of swamp white oak compared to other oaks:

Tree Species Mature Height Range (feet) Mature Spread Range (feet)
Swamp White Oak 60-80 40-60
Red Oak 60-75 45-50
Pin Oak 60-70 25-40
Willow Oak 40-75 30-60

As you can see, swamp white oak is one of the largest oak species at maturity. Make sure you have room for its massive size before planting.

Messy Acorns

Like other oak trees, swamp white oaks produce acorns which can create messy cleanup in the fall. The acorns are round to oblong in shape and about 3/4 to 1 inch long. While squirrels, deer, and other wildlife love eating the acorns, many homeowners find them a nuisance when they litter lawns, sidewalks, decks, roofs, and gutters. Using oak trees near walkways or driveways means having to regularly clean up fallen acorns to prevent slick spots and avoid crunching them underfoot.

Susceptibility to Pests

Swamp white oak is vulnerable to some common pests and diseases that can weaken or even kill the tree. Here are some of the main issues to be aware of:

  • Oak wilt – Caused by a fungal pathogen, oak wilt causes the tree’s leaves to wilt, bronze, and drop off prematurely. It spreads quickly and can be fatal.
  • Anthracnose – A fungal disease that results in leaf spots, curling, wilting, and defoliation.
  • Cankers – Fungal infections that create sunken, dead areas on branches and trunks.
  • Borers – Insect larvae that bore into the bark and sapwood, creating damaging tunnels.
  • Galls – Abnormal growths caused by various insects and mites.
  • Powdery mildew – Fungal disease that coats leaves with white powdery growth.

To help prevent issues, proper care such as watering during drought and pruning for airflow is key. Quickly treating any signs of infestation or disease is also critical.

Slower Fall Color Change

While the fall color of swamp white oak can be quite attractive, turning rich hues of russet-red to golden brown, the color change tends to happen slower compared to many other trees. This means you may only get a week or two of peak fall foliage from the oak before the leaves start dropping. Other popular landscape trees like maple and dogwood put on more of a showStopping in the fall with intensely bright colors over a longer window. If fantastic fall color is a priority, swamp white oak may disappoint in comparison to other options.


Swamp white oak is an imposing, long-lived oak species with many admirable qualities. However, considerations like its slow growth, massive size, messy acorns, disease susceptibility, and mediocre fall color change may make it less than ideal for some landscape situations. Carefully weigh the pros and cons before planting swamp white oak to make sure it’s the best choice for your specific needs and space.