The dwarf chinkapin oak brings a bit of the wilderness to your backyard without scaring the neighbors or shading your vegetables. This small native tree is adaptable—it can handle high wind, dry sites, and poor, thin, or rocky soil—and decorative. Green-yellow catkins appear in spring, thick green leaves in summer, and bronze to red-orange leaves in fall. Wild critters love the rich brown acorns. Because of its rugged temperament, good looks, and compact size, the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum named dwarf chinkapin oak to its annual GreatPlants list this year.
Common name: Dwarf chinkapin oak
Botanical name: Quercus prinoides
Plant type: Deciduous small tree or large shrub
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 15 to 20 feet
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Prefers well-drained soil but tolerates many types, including clay.
• Moisture: Medium. Tolerates dry or moist soils.
• Mulch: Add 3 to 6 inches of organic mulch to help soil retain moisture. Don’t mulch up against the tree trunk, as this encourages rot.
• Pruning: Dwarf chinkapin oak can sucker vigorously. To keep it contained, prune suckers to the ground.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed.
Pests and diseases
• Not vulnerable to many pests.
• Leaf spot can affect the tree.
• Dwarf chinkapin oak is good as a small specimen tree or in a shrub border. You can prune it to a single trunk, or allow it to grow as a large shrub with multiple trunks.
• If you’re using dwarf chinkapin oak as a specimen plant, plant it where you can enjoy it in all seasons.
• The ½-inch acorns that ripen in fall are a favorite food for wildlife.
• Because dwarf chinkapin oak may sucker, plant it in a spot where you need a windbreak or a wildlife-friendly thicket.
All in the family
• Quercus prinoides is very similar to the chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii), though the latter grows 40 to 60 feet, isn’t found as far north, and is hardy only to Zone 5.
• There are about 600 species of oaks. Most are found in the northern hemisphere. Oaks, beeches, and chestnuts are all members of Fagaceae, the beech family.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Quercus prinoides courtesy of Kristina Jensen)