swamp white oak not growing well

Asked May 11, 2016, 10:28 PM EDT

Hello - we bought a swamp white oak tree in September 2012 that did well for about a year and then went down hill. It is planted on our front lawn - to the one side is wetlands and the other side is a pond. So we thought a swamp oak would do well there because sometimes if there's a lot of rain, that part of the lawn can get pretty soggy and even may be underwater,although that is very seldom. The first photo shows the wetlands on one side, pond on the other. My son insisted he hold a sign up for you "Help Our Trees!!!" I wanted to use him for perspective on the size of the tree. The second photo shows the tree - the top half has no leaves, the bottom half is growing leaves on some branches that are off the trunk. Usually it looks like we've got a bush planted on the bottom of the tree because it gets bushy with leaves but the upper part is just bare branches that look dead. The third photo shows a close up of the base of the trunk. Lots of branches coming out of the trunk and also it looks as though there are smaller separate trees growing out of the ground near the trunk. Not sure if those are what you would call suckers. What are we doing wrong? Is this tree hopeless or is there something we can do to help it grow? Thank you!!

Scott County Minnesota swamp oak

3 Responses

Hi and thanks for contacting AaE.

Even though this variety of oak is more resistant to water, it's possible that it IS getting too much. That could explain the dying top growth.

Another possibility is that the tree was improperly planted. If it was too deep it could be suffering from crown rot. That could explain the suckers.

One the other hand...the photo that shows the "suckers" is very weird. The suckers look like cherry bark - not oak. Is it possible that there was a mix-up at the nursery when you bought these guy? Cherries can grow in clumps like this, especially if the leader has been injured, or has died for some reason. Oaks don't do this (well, I supposed there could be an exception on occasion)

I can't see the leaves very well...the resolution is not sharp enough. Are you sure that this tree is an oak?

Take a look at this link to see if your tree fits these descriptions:

In any event, I think you should consider replacing this youngster before it gets much bigger. Even if it survives it will not have a desirable form or shape. If the ground gets as wet as you have indicated, it's possible that almost any tree will have some difficulty here. Something in the Cottonwood family might work. These are riparian trees, and you can often observe them in swampy areas, in spring, and or during flood season. They can be quite happy in standing water, for weeks at a time.

Thank you so much, Mary. This definitely is a Swamp White Oak. We bought it at Bachman's and still have the tag that came with the tree. I wanted to grow a big Oak tree in that area and actually returned a different Oak tree that I had bought and got this one instead because of the wetlands/pond. I really hate to remove it, but will consider the Cottonwood option as you have suggested. Do you have any suggestions about evergreen-type trees to plant near the road there? The road shows in the background and would actually be uphill a bit from the wetlands/pond, so those should not be sitting in water, but would need to tolerate salt, etc from the road. We would like to plant a few trees to give a little more privacy to our front yard. Thank you!

I'm sorry that this has been such a trial for you folks.

I have been advised by some of my colleagues that swamp oak does sucker. But suckering like this is a sign that the the tree is stressed. Either it was planted too deep, or the soil conditions are just too wet.

I don't know if you can go back to Bachmans to get another replacement tree (Typically reputable garden centers offer a one-two year replacement policy).

Instead of planting a tree in this depression, your might want to consider rain garden plants:

And seeing as if you want to provide some sort of privacy from the road you may want to consider trees that are water and salt tolerant. There are a number of lovely evergreen trees that could fit the bill. Here is a link that will tell you about all of the most successful plants for challenging site in our area: