Is My Water Oak Tree Dying?

by May 13, 2022General0 comments

Water oaks are beautiful trees that thrive in the Southern portions of the United States.   They are hardy, provide shade, and provide a food source (acorns) and excellent habitat for wildlife.

These oaks are capable of growing to a height of 60 to 80 feet tall with a 50 to 70 foot spread making them a lovely addition to landscapes.  In the deep south, they are semi-evergreen.   If you are considering planting a water oak on your property, or if you already have one or more, this blog post will help you to understand how to properly maintain your tree as well as to identify warning signs that may indicate serious problems.

Scientific Name Quercus nigra (KWERK-us NYE-gruh)
Height/Spread 60 – 80 ft tall. 50 – 70 ft spread.
Origin Native to North America
USDA Hardiness Zones Zones 6 through 10 (Southern US)

Water oak trees are rapid growers. They are tolerant of several soil types including sandier soils and clay, but are not well adapted to highly alkaline soils.

As you might imagine given the name “water” oak, these trees thrive in wet, swampy areas such as along the banks of rivers, streams, and ponds. However, they can also do quite well and in some cases may even be stronger in drier, well-drained areas.

Proper Care

Water oaks are easily planted or transplanted. Young trees should be groomed and trained to develop one central trunk. The early life of water oaks is very important. Developing a single trunk and a strong branch structure may eliminate future problems and extend the life span of the tree. It is not ideal to remove large diameter branches from the trunk – especially often – as this may initiate decay in the trunk. Therefore, by pruning them early while the tree is young (known as training), it will give you a better chance of having a healthy tree throughout its life

Common Issues and Considerations

A common issue with water oaks is that they tend to develop several upright trunks. This is not ideal, as each trunk is likely to be poorly attached, causing weakness. Horizontal branches tend to drop under their own weight. Larger branches falling during storms can cause deformations in the tree and prematurely begin the process of aging, decay and decline.

A drawback of water oaks is that they have a relatively short life span of 30 to 50 years. As a general rule, the wetter the soil environment, the faster the tree may grow and the weaker the wood may be. Whereas if the soil environment is drier, it can lead to a slower growing tree which is often stronger.

The tree can grow and be healthy in either full sun or partial sun/shade.


Pests are not generally a major concern with water oaks. However, a few situations can be serious and may require attention from a professional tree care company and/or an arborist.

Galls (usually insect nests) often cause concern due to their appearance of looking like a tumor, but are generally not a cause for concern. (“It’s not a tumor!” -Arnold Schwarzenegger)

If the tree becomes weak it may be susceptible to boring insects. They are also likely to attack a tree while it is young and not yet well-established. For healthy trees, they generally pose no serious threat. The same is true of caterpillars. However if you suspect pests are threatening the health of the tree, you can always call a tree service professional or arborist who can determine if a horticultural oil, chemical, or trimming is needed.


If you suspect oak wilt, mushroom root rot, trunk decay, anthracnose, canker, leaf blister, fungus, or other mineral deficiency or disease, it is best to consult a tree professional or arborist. They can recommend the best course of treatment, trimming or removal.


While water oaks are beautiful trees with many benefits, property owners may do well to research other oaks such as Live oaks, Bur oaks, Shumard oaks, Red oaks, White oaks, or Swamp white oaks. The main benefit of these other oaks is the lifespan – particularly their life at desirable size – as well as their wood strength and tolerance to various diseases and pests.

Need help with your Water oak or other variety of oak tree? You can trust Precision Tree Care and Removal! Give us a call today: (386) 688-5173 or fill out our service contact form or book your appointment online.