En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - April 11, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Can a bur oak fit in a small space in Austin?
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We recently got a one-gallon pot of Bur Oak. The area around our house has two old live oaks on the NW corner and another large live oak on the SE. There isn't much room on the SW corner for the oak because of some hedge plants and a 3-feet tall loquat. Could I plant the Bur Oak between two houses (its open about 10 feet deep and maybe 60 feet long) on the Northern side? Is the depth enough room for the Bur Oak to grow long term? regards


A one-gallon Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak) is a cute, itty-bitty plant. A full grown Bur oak, not so much. To quote from the first paragraph from our webpage on this plant (follow the plant link to read the whole page):

"Bur oak is a large, deciduous tree with a very wide, open crown. Usually wider than tall, the tree can exceed 100 ft. in height and width."

You also need to understand that the roots of an oak will extend up to 3 times the circumference of the upper oak. If an oak can grow to 100 ft. in height and is usually wider than it's tall, what does that tell you about the roots in the 10-ft. depth area? The tree will soon be wider than even the 60-ft.. depth before the tree is fully mature. The branches will interfere with the houses on both sides, and have to be constantly heavily pruned, the roots will quickly be in the foundations of both houses, and the tree will allow very little to grow under it.

Don't get us wrong. We love the Bur oak, especially its gorgeous huge acorns, but you asked us about the possibiliity of planting it in a constricted space, and you can see we don't recommend it. It's all very well to say you will no longer live there when the tree gets that big, but that is not real stewardship of the land, the resources and the tree. It will have to be cut down and the roots ground out at some expense and inconvenience, long before it reaches full size.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Quercus macrocarpa

Quercus macrocarpa

Quercus macrocarpa

Quercus macrocarpa




More Trees Questions

A Native Tree for Ardmore PA
January 15, 2014 - I am looking to plant a native tree in my back yard. The yard is small and gets mostly afternoon sun. Thank you
view the full question and answer

Problem with baldcypress tree
May 27, 2011 - Two of my three 20 year old Bald Cypress trees appear to have leafed out but are now brown in parts of the tree. The brown area is at the tops of the trees which are probably 40 ft. high. They were...
view the full question and answer

Safe distance from foundation for Sycamore from Preston UK
August 24, 2011 - What would be the safe distance to have a sycamore tree near your house so it doesn't affect the foundations?
view the full question and answer

What to do with a sickly American elm in Austin, Texas
September 27, 2010 - I have an American elm that is about 6 feet tall in my yard. It is has not grown quickly this year--as compared to another American Elm that I have in another spot that is about 3 feet tall and has m...
view the full question and answer

Trimming a bur oak in Llano, TX
February 06, 2009 - We have a beautiful, large Burr Oak next to our house. This tree has many large lateral branches. I have trimmed dead branches, but no other trimming. It grows a lot of "suckers" during growing sea...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center